Break it down; teaching social skills.


For many parents, or even teachers, supporting kids on the spectrum the need for social teaching is at the forefront of concern. In a diagnosis with a central deficit in social and communication ability, it is obvious why socialization can be tricky; it incorporates both social skills and the need to communicate effectively. And don't even get me started on teaching the social norms that our society has deemed universal; "no dear, you are supposed to give eye contact but if you look too long it's called staring and that's awkward.." (Hmm....)

So, where to begin when your child is struggling and you want to step in?

I can’t help but think back to my pre-MM day; MM was an idea in my head long before it came to fruition (years, and years). For a long time I wanted to call my emerging idea “Break it Down” only to later decide that the name sounded more like a hip hop album than a learning centre and therapy centre.

So onward I pushed, and eventually with the help of a colleague (co-Director at the time, shout out to Mrs. Lindsay Weinstock!) we decided on Magnificent Minds.

But the idea of ‘breaking it down’ was still at the core of our teaching practices and therapy programs. “Break it down” is so much more than just a hip-hop sounding adage; it provides insight into how you can help your spectrum kiddo to master the nuances of the social exchange. Let me break it down for you... ;)

So now..at the risk of being a little cliché...I will ‘break down’ how to ‘break down’ a skill—particularly, social development.

1. Generate a list of desired goal; this will probably come from a list of your child’s needs, but try to put a positive spin on it—instead of listing every your child cannot do, list everything you want your child to do eventually. (It's all about how you spin it; are you half empty or half full?)

2. Choose a top three; after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

3. Prioritize (rank) your top three and ideally, make the ranking reflect any consideration of prerequisite skills.

For instance, if you want your child to run you will want to start by teaching him or her to walk (or crawl). (Insert ancient proverb here.)

It may seem like a given, but remember to consider the most foundational skills first.

Once you have decided on your number 1 goal (for now); you begin to break it down. In ABA-speak we call this a task analysis. In a task analysis you break down a goal or skill into it’s compartmentalized components.

So, let’s say I narrow in on teaching my little monkey to initiate play; there are a multitude of ways you can break this down, but here is just one: