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Social Skills in Your Free Time

Article: The Secret Agent Society Social-Emotional Skills Program for Children with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Parent-Directed Trial. By, Sofronoff, Silva and Beaymont. In Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 32(1) 2017

A statement I continue to make to my clients and their families, which is based largely on experience and common sense (and a knowledge of child development) is that my office is probably not the best place to learn social skills. There are issues of generalization, the clinical setting, valence in relationship of the person delivering services, and the fact that kids traditionally learn social skills from their parents and peers. I am neither their parent nor a peer, so if an ASD kid has access to either of these, I usually try to deliver services in a way that enhances learning of social skills in naturalistic settings as much as possible.

Dr. Sofronoff developed and is selling the Secret Agency Society interactive game to help ASD kids learn social skills and emotion management skills in the context of their home and from, among others, parents. Indeed, this is a parent-directed intervention, so I am immediately interested. How I see this working, based on this article and my glance at the website is a parent would buy the home-based SAS kit for about the cost of one or two sessions with yours truly and then the parent would connect with me for parent support. Indeed, the need for direct contact between the ASD child and the professional seems limited.

They found, of course, that the SAS works. I want to note, again, that even though this is a peer reviewed journal (I'm pretty sure about this), the lead author is also the person making money off the sale of SAS. With that said, I am probably going to investigate this thing a little more before I recommend it to anyone.

Kids who participated in SAS all the way through (there was a 32% dropout rate) made self-reported improvement in social competence, use of emotion management strategies (in the form of reduced problem-behaviors), and anxiety. Pay attention to the high dropout rate. To me this says that doing the SAS all the way through requires some commitment. People who dropped out tended to be those whose parents were younger, less educated, and had trouble getting their kid to play the games. Final note about the study: it had good follow-ups. ASD kids were able to hold on to improvements a couple weeks/months out.

There are probably a lot of reasons why SAS works, but my guess about the main reason is that it helps parents fill their natural role in training social skills with their children. ASD kids definitely learn social skills in a non-traditional (e.g., direct instruction) way, but they can learn them. Parents are often the best people to do this training, but often lack knowledge and support.

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