Social Skills in School - 11/20/12

Submitted by Tim on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 07:41 AM

I recently read an article in Slate magazine about how miserable children are in middle school.  One major reason is that children are very seldom explicitly trained on new ones ways of interacting with others. Instead, children are expected to pick up appropriate social skills just by observing the way other people behave towards each other.

Unfortunately, most people are not consciously aware of what cues they use to decide how to behave towards other people. Even when people are aware, there are strong social expectations that prevent people from talking about how they should interact with each other. Because of expectations like “avoiding criticizing others,” people keep silent instead of giving helpful advice about social interaction problems. If someone has certain kinds of disabilities, this silence makes it even harder for them to figure out how to behave appropriately. Thus, they have few ways to socially interact that make them feel safe, comfortable, and happy.   What can parents of children with special need to do?  There are products like Social Stories, or opportunities to practice like social skills improv.  Still, it's not unreasonable for parents of children with special needs to expect the school district to provide some help by creating interventions that help children learn how to behave in a socially appropriate way in order to express their desires. Special needs law recognizes that expressions of a disability that interfere with learning must be addressed by the district, even if they are not typical education topics like reading, math, science, or history.   One possible program is an organized a lunch table of typical and non-typical peers, with guided interactions from trained teachers.  Or a more intensive intervention might be required, with more direct and individualized programs for a particular child. But special education law encompasses the concept that learning social skills is an important part of growing up, and the school district has a responsibility to support special needs children as they try to learn social skills.   This is one major principle behind the legal doctrine Least Restrictive Environment, which I'll talk about in more detail in another post.  But even if teaching children appropriate social skills was never required, teaching social skills has the benefit of improving everyone’s behavior. Good social skills can lower the frequency of misbehavior, bullying, and other discipline problems. At the same time, it can make the experience at school more pleasant – benefiting both children with special needs and typically developing children.   Also, I have heard that the Nightline segment on seclusion rooms I discussed last week has been rescheduled to air tonight.

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