Alex Rittberg, BSNPTA co-president, brought the meeting to order by welcoming everyone. Our featured speaker was Cindy Schneider, Autism Consultant and Theatre Director, who spoke on the topic of Teaching Social Skills to Children. 72 people were in attendance at the Brandywine Town Center, including parents, teachers, students, and administrators. Among the attendees were Brandywine School District (BSD) Director of Special Services Ann Hilkert, BSD School Board members Craig Gilbert, Olivia Johnson-Harris and Debra Heffernan.
Ann Hilkert made a couple of announcements:
- Satisfaction Surveys have been mailed to every parent of a child with an IEP in BSD. She encouraged everyone to complete their surveys and send them back to the district office by January 30, 2006. [The survey was developed by a joint parent/district team as part of the BSD Annual Performance Report. The BSNPTA strongly encourages full participation in the survey.
- An audit of the BSD Special Education Program will be conducted in February by the outside consulting firm Stetson Associates. Tentatively, Stetson will be conducting 3 different parent focus group sessions:
- Thursday, February 2, for parents of children in pre-school through 6th grade
- Tuesday, February 7, for parents involved in advisory groups and the BSNPTA
- Wednesday, February 8, for parents of children 7th grade through age 21
Ms. Schneider stressed how important it is to be social:
- We live in a social world
- Inappropriate social behavior causes adverse reactions in peers and adults
- These reactions cause self-esteem problems and escalate inappropriate behaviors
- Our children miss out on opportunities if social skills are not intact
- Very important skills for growth in school, community and family relationships.
She then addressed how we develop a better understanding of our childrens social deficits. First we must determine which of the four key areas of social deficits/learning disabilities exist: Conceptual learning disability; Inferential learning disability; Language formulation disability; and/or Perspective-taking disability (see handout for explanation of these disabilities). Other potential issues impacting socialization are:
- Slow language processing and delivery – we need to give the child time to process. Step back and discover what is his/her processing time.
- Poor auditory memory
- Lack of impulse control
- Short attention span
- Poor spatial awareness
- Lack of self-esteem
Ms. Schneider then addressed what to do once parents/teachers suspect social deficits. First, informal assessments should be gathered from everyone involved with the child (teachers, staff, caregivers, etc), using observation, interviews, checklists and anecdotal records. Next, a formal assessment should be conducted. Ms. Schneider stressed that the formal assessment is very important, because we as parents aren’t always the most objective when it comes to our own children. Formal assessments allow for comparison of a students performance with typical peers; they are valid tools; they have research-based norms; and are completed by the school or other professionals.
Once assessments are complete, Social Skills training can begin. Such settings for social skills training include: Incidental teaching of skill in natural environment; structured playdates; one-on-one lessons; and small group lessons (see handouts for explanations). A social skills curriculum is very important (see handout in how to choose the appropriate curriculum.) Ms. Schneider endorsed four specific curricula — Social Skills Training for Students With Asperger by Dr. Jed Baker; Thinking About You, Thinking About Me (for higher functioning children) by Michelle Garcia Winner, SLP; Navigating the Social World (this program runs the gamut of social skill deficits) by Dr. Jeannette MacAfee; and Skillstreaming, (which also addresses deficits developmentally) by McGinnis/Goldstein. IEP goals must be well written and measurable (see samples). For a good book on writing IEP goals, check out Writing Measurable IEP Goals and Objectives by Barbara Bateman.
Social Skills strategies include (see handout for explanation):
- SOCCSS (Situations-Options-Consequences-Choices-Strategies-Simulation)
- Social Autopsies
- Video Modeling
- Incredible Five-Point Scale
- Comic Strip Conversations
- Power Cards
Another great Social Skills training option is for the socially challenged child to get involved in activity-based clubs, such as theatre, chess, debate, computer, etc.
Ms. Schneider concluded her presentation by reminding everyone: success breeds success. Start where you know the child can be successful and build from there; use repetition, but do not drill (the child will resist drilling); generalize skills to many environments; and make socializing fun, not tedious.
A question was raised about social skills programs in the area. Several parents suggested Collage, which has a Wilmington location. Heidi Mizell, with the Autism Society of Delaware (ASD), mentioned that ASD will be piloting a Games Night for teens with Aspergers (ages 13-18) to be held at A.I. DuPont Hospital February 21st 5-7pm. Ms. Schneider also offers a selection of Programs for Children with Special Needs including Theatre Club for teens 13 and older, Movin and Groovin for younger children as well as a one day workshop for parents, teachers and caregivers on how to use theater activities to teach and reinforce social skills at home and school.
The meeting concluded at 8:30 p.m.
Don’t miss the BSNPTA sponsored Policy Maker’s Town Hall, Thursday, February 9th, 6:30pm at the Brandywine Town Center.
Meet and discuss issues with Legislators, Delaware Department of Education (DOE) Staff and Brandywine School District Board Members and Staff.
Related links on the BSNPTA site include:
- Our Social Skills page. This contains links to external sites with information and help regarding social skills.
- Information on and a copy of a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). An FBA is used to describe why a person acts as they do. Results on a FBA can used as input into an IEP.
- Intro Letter to Teacher about Student with Asperger’s Syndrome
- Peer Sensitivity Document to help students understand and relate to a classmate with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- We’ve posted several articles by Temple Grandin, PhD. Dr. Grandin is a successful engineer, professor and author who has Autism. She is able to provide a unique insight on many issues related to Autism Spectrum Disorder.