Social skills groups: Dynamic group approach (Autism MOOC)

Social skills groups: Dynamic group approach (Autism MOOC)


Individuals with social deficits
can unknowingly, over time, engender negative reactions
from their peers, and this can affect their social
development in a negative way. For example,
if Paul is getting ready to sit down with his peers
on the mat to watch a movie
that his teacher has set up, Paul might identify
the perfect spot on the carpet. But in plonking himself down, he might unknowingly
sit on three other peers and block the view of two more. What Paul might not realise is that this may cause frustration
and annoyance in his peers, and this could negatively
affect future interactions that they have with Paul. Essentially, an accumulation of negative and unsuccessful interactions with same-aged peers can lead then to distrust, dislike for same-aged peers, anxiety, and avoidance for new or challenging social situations. The consequence is less exposure to social interactions, fewer positive social experiences to learn from, and less practice at social skills relative to same-aged peers. And with this, the social deficits persist. Fortunately, social skills group programs can intercept this cycle and offer children positive social experiences and successful social interactions to create meaningful change. So what is a dynamic
social skills group program? Dynamic social skills groups
are not like a classroom. They shouldn’t look
and feel like a classroom. They should look and feel like a
group of children playing together, conversing, resolving conflict
and having fun. A dynamic social skills
group program provides a context for that sort of activity to happen. On the surface, a dynamic social skills group
program appears unstructured. Messy, even. But this design is intentional
and purposeful. Dynamic groups might be
project-based, with an end goal, or theme-based. They’re not directed,
but facilitated. And the facilitator doesn’t
make decisions for the group. The group makes decisions
for the group. The role of the facilitator
is to set up the context and provide explicit mini
social lessons as moments arise. An example of a project-based
dynamic program is The Movie Makers program. Making a movie as a group requires
the individuals to work together, talk, make decisions, compromise,
negotiate, resolve conflict, encourage each other, consider
the feelings and thoughts of others, and be thoughtful,
considerate, patient, know how to listen,
know how to support one another, and these skills are taught
and experienced through the process of the program. A theme-based program
might have an underlying theme, such as The Pizza Club. Each week, the participants
meet at a restaurant chosen by the group
through their discussions. While at the restaurant, social
skills are observed, assessed, discussed in explicit mini lessons
and then practised. Due to the spontaneous,
unstructured nature of these sessions, all sorts of social faux pas and social difficulties can be
observed by the facilitator. This provides moments for learning
and practice. The unstructured nature
and dynamic nature of these programs also ensures that students learn to
transfer skills across sessions, across programs, and transfer skills
across settings in their lives. When planning and designing a
dynamic social skills group program two issues are important
to consider. Firstly, children need to be ready for a dynamic social skills
group program. Children that are quick-tempered or have a tendency to be violent
in response to conflict may not be ready for
a dynamic program. Those children may best first
benefit from individual sessions or a structured social skills
group program. Secondly, children in
dynamic group programs are grouped together thoughtfully. They may be grouped together
based on gender, level of cognitive
and language development. They may be grouped together depending on where they fall
on the autism spectrum, or their interests. In sum: Teaching social skills in a dynamic group context creates engagement and enthusiasm opportunities for ongoing observation and assessment, genuine experiences to inform discussion and explicit learning, ..and genuine opportunities to
practise newly learnt skills across settings, promoting flexibility
and transference of skills. This has been a Swinburne production.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

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