Friday, May 12, 2017

101 Ways to Teach Social Skills - Neurodiversity Comments (Activities 22-44)

This is the second part of my review of 101 Ways to Teach Social Skills.

Section 3: Being Part of a Group.

Activities 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 all sound pretty good. They teach a mix of basic conversation-starting skills and how to empathize and compromise with others.

Activity 27, about flexible and inflexible rules, is mostly fine, except for it's mention of "tell the truth" as a rule that "should always be followed". There are situations where it's accepted and even expected to lie (eg "Does this dress make me look fat?") as well as situations where lying to protect someone is a noble thing to do (a bully wants to beat up your friend and asks you where he is). Rather than just telling kids not to lie, kids with social issues should be taught about the different kinds of good and bad lies. If a child hates to lie, teach them how to 'elven lie' (say something true but misleading, like how elves and other magical beings incapable of lying tend to act). While you're at it, you could also discuss how to disclose a disability, and the different levels of disclosure (need only, need & general disability, needs & specific diagnosis, etc).

Activity 28, in which groups of kids are asked to brainstorm ideas and come to a unanimous agreement, is mostly good. However, it's very important to check in that kids aren't being bullied into agreeing (intentionally or not). A combination of a child who is a bit too pushy and a child who is a bit too submissive can easily result in false consensus, and the experience helps neither child. If you've already picked up on these tendencies in certain children, one solution would be to assign groups and pair pushy children with other pushy children and submissive children with other submissive children. However, you can also take the opportunity to teach the concept of 'checking in' (often discussed in the context of sexual consent), where the person who is pushing more learns to stop and specifically ask the other person if they are OK with what's happening.

Activity 29, about being a good sport, looks great. You may want to add in some basic mindfulness techniques such as counting breaths or noticing a sensation, if the children aren't able to control their reactions otherwise. You could also work in direct practice by having the children play games of chance (so each child is just as likely to win or lose) while you coach any child who seems frustrated on how to be a good sport.

Activity 30, about fostering a group identity by finding things each child has in common, looks mostly good, but if any child in the group has tactile issues then a secret handshake for the group should not be permitted, and a group uniform should be something that doesn't set off tactile issues. You could explicitly discuss the importance of being inclusive and respecting others' needs by choosing something that everyone can handle.

Activity 31, accepting differences, looks good. However, you should discuss neurodevelopmental disabilities as a form of diversity. This would be a great time to explain the concept of neurodiversity in kid-friendly terms. (for example "neurodiversity is about how everyone thinks and feels in their own unique way.")

Activities 32, 33 and 34 look great. However, activity 33 assumes the child has a friend, which is not a given in a social skills class. Some thought should be put into how to handle this activity for a child with no friends (maybe they could pick someone in their family?).

Section 4: Expressing Your Feelings

Activities 35 and 36, about identifying and talking about feelings, are very good. Keep in mind that children with alexithymia will find these activities extremely difficult. But these kids also have the most to benefit if they can master these skills. If a child seems to have no clue how they're feeling, ask them to pay attention to physiological signs of emotion and the behavioral impulses that emotions elicit. (For example, if they feel flushed and their heart is pounding and they want to punch someone, they might be angry. Or possibly scared.)

Activity 37 is about "I messages". I have mixed feelings about "I messages". They can be useful if you know the other person actually cares about how you feel but is feeling defensive when you complain. But in a genuinely hostile situation, such as a bullying or abuse situation, "I messages" are not really appropriate, in my opinion. You don't want to tell an abuser how you're feeling, just tell them that what they're doing is inappropriate, and then give a reasonable threat (eg telling a teacher, calling the police, etc).

Activity 38 is about "putting yourself in another person's shoes". The major problem with this idea is that not everyone feels the way you would feel in their situation. Gifts are a good example - one child might be happy to get a dollhouse, another child would be disappointed because they wanted a monster truck instead.

This is particularly important for neuroatypical kids (and the people around them) to figure out, because neuroatypical kids often have very atypical emotional reactions to situations. For example, they might feel scared when another child would feel excited, excited when another child would feel bored, bored when another child would feel relaxed, etc. Some kids on the autism spectrum have much less capacity for loneliness than neurotypical children, and so might not care if they are alone. Indeed, many neuroatypical people actually have better social skills than neurotypicals in this area, because they learn very quickly that many people don't react the way they would.

Activity 39, about mixed emotions, looks great. It might be too complicated for an alexithymic child, though. If the child struggled a great deal with identifying even one emotion at a time, they're probably not going to be ready for understanding mixed emotions yet.

Activity 40 is about thinking positively instead of negatively. The big problem here is that this activity assumes the presence of inner speech. Some children, especially those with past or ongoing language delays, may not have inner speech. (Both autistic people with VIQ and orally taught Deaf people tend to lack inner speech.) Some children may be able to do this task by speaking out loud and then gradually lowering the volume until it's only the barest whisper. Others may find it works better if they use visual images or other sensory representation instead of words.

In addition, some children may simply not be able to stop intrusive negative thoughts. They may get more benefit from mindfulness techniques such as taking deep breaths and counting your breaths or noticing details of an object. For children who show stimming behavior, you can harness stims for mindfulness purposes by asking them to focus all their attention on the sensations induced by their favorite stims. (This is one of the big reasons why you shouldn't suppress stims - they can often be extremely beneficial and adaptive.)

Activities 41-42 are about self-control and anger regulation. These activities look good, but these skills will not be mastered by most children simply through a single session. They will take ongoing practice. It may be useful to enlist parents' help in reminding their children how to do this. In addition, you could also show the children the Sesame Street Breathe, Think, Do app, available for both Android and Apple devices. The app has the children help a monster through a three-step process for handling strong feelings - first take three deep breaths, then think up some ideas to solve the problem, and then pick an idea and do it. However, it's aimed at preschoolers, so it might be a bit juvenile for older kids.

Activity 43 is about dealing with someone else's anger. This activity has some good aspects, but in the section about taking a break to discuss it later, it's important to discuss what to do if the person follows them or refuses to let them leave, or if they aren't allowed to leave (eg if their caregiver is angry at them in a public place).

Activity 44 is about handling change. This is a great activity, especially since some children in this group would likely struggle with even minor and positive changes.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

I like the idea of elven lies.

12:52 AM  

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