Social Skills in a Special Education Environment



As for most teachers, the first few months of school have consumed us with assessment, IEP development, getting to know new faces and getting reacquainted with old faces.

We've spent a considerable amount of time liaising with parents and the dynamic teams of our students to ensure every 'i' is dotted, and every 't' is crossed. The planning stage is over and we're knee-deep in the implementation stage...the "how" of what is set out in IEPs and monthly goal statements.

By this point in your relationship with us, you probably know that we service a significant number of special education students; though we work with neurotypical kiddos too, we certainly have a niche in specialized instruction. Our holistic approach to education supports the development of hidden curriculum goals like social skills development.

Time and time again I speak to parents or professionals who can't help but wonder:

"How exactly do you target social skills effectively in a predominantly special needs environment, where the majority of the population exhibits social needs of some kind?"

I find the question kind of funny, and I say that with absolutely no judgement for those who are still thinking..

"...no but really, how do you?!"

Though social needs may be more pronounced (or perhaps more observable) in a special education environment, they exist as readily as they do in a general education classroom. I can't tell you how many general ed. classrooms I have worked in, supported, or consulted to where typically developing kids demonstrates needs very similar to what I am used to seeing in a more specialized environment.

A special education environment requires more systematic instruction of social nuances, but not necessarily a greater focus on them (proportionality wise). In a special education environment, social skill development won't always happen by accident; you usually have to actively plan for it (like in the development of math, language or other curriculum goals). The teacher plays a vital role in determining the success of his/her students--but we knew that already, right?

As it turns out, teaching social skills is just like teaching any other curriculum strand--not everyone has to be top of the class in order for the class as a whole to make gains in that subject.