Michelle Garcia Winner recommends these sites and experts to help parents understand their children’s social skills challenges:
By Valle Dwight
Ben Greene, 9, was at recess when a classmate asked him to play. “I would, but you smell really bad,” he replied. The girl walked away hurt. Ben, who has Asperger’s syndrome, had no idea why his remark bothered the little girl (“It’s a fact,” he said with a shrug). The next day, at the insistence of his aide, he apologized to her. “I’m sorry I made a personal remark, but you really do smell bad,” he said.
Anyone with a child on the autism spectrum probably recognizes that scenario and, in part, it’s just such situations that led Massachusetts to pass a law requiring that IEP teams consider and address the social skills needs of children on the spectrum. Advocates hailed the law, which recognizes that social skills are a critical part of a child’s education and development.
Despite the fanfare around the law's passage, in some ways it raises more questions than it answers: What exactly are social skills? Who needs them? And how do we teach them? Unfortunately the gaps in the law reflect a larger gap in our understanding of how we can help, measure, and develop social skills in kids who lack them.
Though by far the most common group targeted for social skills are children on the autism spectrum, many children with learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have social skills deficits, as do kids with intellectual disabilities. This fact makes developing a social skills curriculum or an IEP program all that more difficult.
Why? Because each child has different and unique needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Just call in the experts? Easier said than done. According to Michelle Garcia Winner, an author and the leading expert in the field of social skills (what she calls “social thinking”), this is an emerging field with very few experts to answer the questions. At the same time, she says, social skills are one of the most important predictors of a child’s success.
“Most people are not trained in the intricacies of the social mind,” she says.
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