Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We Could ALL Use Some Social Skills Training

I saw a statement on Twitter a while back and while I can't remember who said it or exactly how it was said, it's too good to not attempt to repeat.  The bottom line was this:

It might be difficult but I can raise my child with special needs if you can raise your child to accept her.


That right there will preach.

Let's face it - socialization is a hard, hard thing for many children with special needs.

Some of our children are nonverbal while some engage in echolalia, repeating phrases from memory that often have nothing to do with the present situation.  Some are brutally honest.  Still others get fixated on one particular topic, like bugs or volcanoes, and that is all they want to talk about.  Many invade others' personal space while some of our kiddos simply prefer to be left alone.

Either it's difficult for our kiddos to know how to engage another peer in play or their peers don't want to engage in play with them because they don't know what to make of our children.

Honestly, our children can just be hard to play with sometimes.

Many parents of special needs kiddos do all they can to teach their children how to make and be a friend.  Social skills groups, play groups, play therapy, relationship training.... the list is endless.  We also spend quite a bit of time advocating for our children, helping the public become aware and accepting, teaching others that our children are much like neurotypical kids with many of the same interests and hobbies.

But I believe social acceptance is a two way street.

Typical kids often need social skills training just as much as their special needs peers.

Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate what I'm saying.
  • A little girl who just happens to have autism is playing on the playground after school is over.  In social skills group, she has been working on approaching a peer, looking them in the eye, and saying, "Hi. My name is ___. Do you want to swing/slide/dig in the sand/whatever?"  She finally gets up the nerve to go try this with another little girl on the playground.  When she gets done reciting her very practiced piece, the other little girl looks at her and says, "No."
  • Two children are playing video games.  One is neurotypical (NT) and one has special needs (SN).  While the special needs child is waiting for his turn, which isn't always an easy task for any kid, he flaps his arms, hums, and talks to himself.  The NT child gets very embarrassed, hands the gaming device back to the other kid, and walks away without finishing the game.
  • A group of NT children are jumping on a trampoline.  A child with SN approaches and asks to play.  The kids aren't sure what to do or say because they don't know if he can jump.
  • A SN child frequently wears a bib because of drooling.  Some children call him a baby because no one their age wears bibs anymore.  Other kids simply wonder why he needs one but are afraid to ask about it.
Do you see what I'm getting at here?

Social skills therapy is never going to be completely successful if the children with special needs are the only ones receiving it.

Our NT kiddos have to be taught how to interact with children different from themselves.  They need to spend time with peers who are in wheelchairs, who are visually impaired, who are deaf, who are nonverbal, just to name a few, so that they come to see the similarities instead of just the differences.

Social skills training will work best when it's conducted in an environment where it is safe to kindly ask questions.  Where trained therapists answer those questions in a straight-forward manner.  Where children learn about each other and the variety of ways that happiness and excitement can be expressed.  Where kids learn to voice their negative emotions in an appropriate fashion.  Where children start to grasp the concept of personal space. A place where children discover all the many things they can do instead of what they can't do.

I just think socialization works best when we all work on it together.  We all have so much to teach one another.  And to learn from each other.

And before you start thinking that I'd also like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, let me give you just one example of the good that can come out of these mixed NT and SN social skills groups that I've seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.

About a year ago, I was observing at a school that is made up of 50% NT children and 50% SN children.

It was lunchtime and the kids were seated at a rectangle table, happily munching and talking to one another.

One small boy seated at the head of the table was nonverbal.  In front of him was one of those big red GoTalk type buttons.  He reached out to push the button and I heard a recorded voice say, "milk, please."

Well, the teachers were busily helping other children get their juice boxes open and Tupperware lids off.  So the little boy patiently pushes the button again.

Still no response from the teachers.

The boy pushes the button a third time, and to my utter delight, the little NT girl sitting to the right of this small boy, says in the clearest and loudest voice, "Hey, Teacher! He said he wants milk!!"

It brought tears to my eyes.

Now that little boy didn't actually speak the words.  But because this young girl had spent so much time around SN kids, she understood that big red button was that boy's voice.  And she thought nothing of saying, "he said he wants milk", because in her mind, he did say he wanted milk.  He just didn't say it the same way she did.  Honestly, I don't think she even noticed.  And she certainly didn't care.

That right there is what I want for all our kids, special needs and typical alike.  We have so much to learn from one another.  We just need to be willing.  To be unafraid.  To be accepting.

And we'll all be richer for it.

Maybe I do want the world to sing in perfect harmony.

Is that such a bad thing?

Make a difference: Elaine Dalton


  1. A wonderful lesson, Lana! I hope more parents out there see it and keep it in mind!

    We are blessed to have Little Miss's BFF, "Sophie." the thing I love most about Sophie is that this little girl has NEVER treated Little Miss differently than any other kid. I mean, yes... Sophie does help LM with things she can't do yet and she does make exceptions for LM - but these little differences are the same to Sophie as helping a NT friend who has dropped a crayon. It's not ABOUT LM's special needs, it's about being a friend. IMHO, I would nominate Sophie's mom for teacher of the year when it comes to social skills!

    1. Maybe we should interview "Sophie's" mom and find our her secrets! :)

  2. I know what you mean. Teaching half the class to do anything is leaving the other half in the dark. Except here it's not half we're teaching 1/88. I think a lot of it can be prepped by reading books that teach about SN children. T's class spent a whole week at the end of April explaining and teach how each of them is special even if someone does things differently like T. I just gave them a couple books to use to teach the kids about diversity as well. It has to start with us as patents suggesting and planting seeds with teachers. Bringing in materials that can help a teacher prepare lesson plans that include instruction about special needs, getting the class exposed to our kids through inclusion and providing guest speakers like the speech therapists that are already at school to explain what they do. It's not "teaching the world perfect harmony"! It's the right thing to do and an easy an plausible goal with some effort on everyone's part. Great post!

    1. That's the nail on the head, Karen! We've got to teach ALL the kids!

  3. Pinned and shared on Facebook! My friend, this is a fabulous post. It makes me think back to the under 3 developmental center Cam went too. Half the class was special needs and the other half were peers. I have so much respect for the parents of the NT kids who enrolled them in the program. Neither the kids nor the parents treated us any differently and always so accepting even when Cam was struggling. They wanted their child exposed to special needs children and to learn how to accept them. It was a beautiful thing!

    1. I like to think that if I had to do it over again with my big girls, I would try to find opportunities for them to be peer models in a preschool program. Exposure makes such a difference!

  4. Isn't it perfect when the children teach us about acceptance? Actually, small children can't see the differences. When 3 year olds were asked why Caillou had no hair, they laughed and said...because he has no hair! They didn't think it was weird. It makes me think that somehow we're teaching our children to notice differences when we can simply allow them to continue seeing their friends...just other kids...doing things their own way!

    I totally agree with teaching social skills to all kids! ...adults too!

    1. I think when we don't talk about special needs with our kids when they have questions, it actually contributes to the noticing of differences.

  5. That is a really really good post! As I was reading it through I was thinking as a mom, I could really work on teaching my typically developing kids so much more. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. Sometimes it's difficult as a parent of five typically developing kids to know what to teach my kids about those with differences because I'm not sure how those children with special needs are different and what I need to teach them. Thank you for providing some scenarios. We all just need to be more educated about so many things. :) I really really like your post. Thank you!

    1. I'm working on a post right now that will hopefully offer some tips for parents of typically developing children who want to teach their kids more about special needs. Thanks for the comment, Lindsay!

  6. Excellent piece. Reverse social inclusion is a good option I think. When my boy was making his successful transition from special to mainstream school, there were was some talk of trying to get a group of mainstream kids in to the special school, on a weekly basis for some play time. Both groups of children have a lot to learn from each other.

    xx Jazzy

  7. Good Post. really It takes such plenty time to push and notice traffic from social name the matter is it never consistent. we have a tendency to should take under consideration Organic searches whereas victimization social media and getting links from good social networks like Google and can not merely offer some traffic but collectively good links to diary.

  8. My oldest child JW went to a program for special needs children and half are peer models. He got so much out of it those two years he went. This year his 3 year old brother started at The Little Hapie Tree as a peer model. I told my husband early on I wanted my younger two to experience the consistency of being around children that are different than them but most importantly to notice how everyone is special no matter how different. When my daughter turns 3 she too will attend. Thank you for your beautiful words.



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