Social Skills!

Navigating social situations throughout life is complicated for people of all ages and abilities. However, social skills are crucial to success in the classroom, home, workplace and community. Occupational Therapists at Building Blocks passionately work with children to develop their social skills to support appropriate interactions in a variety of settings and situations.

Occupational Therapists most effectively support children to develop their social skills by breaking these down into the fundamental skills. By doing so, we are addressing which of these is impacting on their overall ability to socialise appropriately in any given situation. These can include:

  • Turn-taking and sharing
  • Kindness and manners
  • Focus and concentration
  • Emotional and sensory regulation
  • Greeting and acknowledging others nearby
  • Understanding body language
  • Respecting personal space
  • Problem solving and conflict resolution
  • Understanding someone else’s perspective

An effective evidence-based strategy to build a number of the above social skills, is to use social stories. Social stories are brief, personal stories written for children to help them understand social situations. The story specifically describes the situation, with the child’s and others’ feelings and thoughts as key elements. Possible social responses may be included in a positive way, to help the child understand a social situation or cope with a stressful encounter. By reading social stories, children are able to think about the situation prior to it occurring to be able to utilise strategies they have already learned. Social stories can easily be found online but it is recommended that they are as individualised as possible to work most effectively. However, some stories are published children’s books aimed to teach children about social skills such as, “Have you filled a bucket today?” By Carol McCloud.

Another great intervention that Occupational Therapists commonly use to develop social skills are comic strip conversations. These involve “drawing” conversations to help the child learn the social rules that others learn more naturally. Bubbles representing a conversation can bump into or overlap one another to illustrate “interrupting” and “thought” bubbles can show others’ thoughts during conversation. For example, a child with ASD who takes offence at a peer’s comment, “You can’t catch me!” can be shown that the peer may not have been rejecting, but trying to start a fun game of chase.

There are also strategies more specific to the foundational skills listed above. For example, to develop an understanding of personal space, Occupational Therapists use the concept of “space invaders vs space protectors”. A ‘space invader’ is someone who invades personal space whereas a ‘space protector’ is someone who protects others’ space. This can be explored playfully using masks and superhero capes to educate children on cues that they are being space invaders.

Turn-taking and sharing is easily targeted at home, school and in the community with a variety of people. It is highly recommended to play games that involve this skill such as board games and movement based games like Tangled Web Toss. Other games that we recommend include the WeDo game and Happy Family games. These can be purchased through Building Blocks Therapy.

Social skills groups are another effective evidence-based way to build social skills at Building Blocks Therapy. These groups offer a fantastic opportunity for children to practice social skills with each other on a regular basis. Speak with Lize or your child’s Occupational Therapist about participating in one of these groups, as Building Blocks facilitates these throughout the year.

If you would like to ask any questions or seek an assessment of your child’s social skills, please consult an Occupational Therapist at Building Blocks Therapy.

Claire McGoldrick

Occupational Therapist – Building Blocks Therapy

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