It’s all very well identifying that children with language – learning difficulties have social communication difficulties, but addressing these difficulties is not easy because of the fluid nature of social communication.
Subtle judgments about the nature of the communicative interaction are often so difficult for children with language difficulties to make.
Sometimes a “rule” in one situation, may not apply to similar situations. The child who so innocently repeated his mother’s profanities (see link here) to the rest of the class was well aware that swearing was not right, but he didn’t understand that within the social context of a classroom with a teacher, you just don’t say those words.
Do comments like this sound familiar?
“That child knows how he is supposed to behave. He CHOOSES to misbehave.”
“I ask him what he is supposed to be doing and he can tell me. He knows better, so why isn’t he doing it?”
My son, who is learning to speak French, highlighted the underlying difficulty for me. French (like many other languages) has the polite/formal form of addressing someone and a colloquial form. Despite knowing, the difference, he consistently uses them incorrectly. It turns out, that he is not doing his homework; he is not practicing!
Many children with language – learning difficulties, know “intellectually” what they are supposed to do, but they’ve never “physically” done it before. Like learning to speak a new language, until the skill is practiced in multiple situations, in multiple contexts, it will be near to impossible to suddenly display a completely different behaviour that we’ve been showing for years.
Identifying the difficulties and creating opportunities for practice is key to teaching social communication skills
Activities and ways to develop social communication skills
Vocabulary and General Knowledge
Teaching the vocabulary associated with social communication is important in helping children identifying their own feelings so that they can change their behaviour. For example telling a child to “stop being rude!” may be meaningless if they don’t understand what rude means.
Idioms and multiple meaning words often have to be explicitly taught to children as these often contribute to children missing out on the nuances and innuendos of a conversation.
It is really difficult for a child to join in a conversation or maintain a conversation if they do not have prior knowledge about the subject. Help your child by finding out what his peers are interested in, so that the vocabulary and information around those subjects can be taught.
Teaching a child to ask questions in order to learn more about a topic is also a valuable social skill.
Everyday natural interactions can be used to practice a skill. Instead of telling the child to “stop interrupting”, acknowledge that you will listen to them when it’s their turn to talk. Explaining how you feel when the child interrupts an adult conversation. Provide them with the opportunity to talk when you are finished or explain that they may need to try and remember the information for later.
Board Games can be used for teaching turn taking skills, following rules and discussing feelings about winning and losing.
Create a Board Game
Creating a board game with a group of children allows creates opportunities to teach skills such as collaboration, compromise, and establishing rules.
Stories and Books
Stories are valuable tools for teaching social communication skills.
A story can be used to encourage a child to evaluate a different perspective (which might be different to their own). They can be used to encourage the child to predict what might happen. Alternative scenarios (different endings to the story) or communication problems (such as the child that no-one talks to) and feelings of the characters can all be used to teach social language.
Many children’s stories are on social skills topics such as making new friends, dealing with bullies, or encountering new situations.
Charades and 30 Seconds
Both these well known games are great ways of teaching about communication breakdown and strategies for conversational repair.
The following techniques are important:
Rephrasing – if the same information is delivered in a different way, would that help?
Providing additional information – does the listener require more information in order to understand?
Providing a relevant context – does the listener not understand because he is not following your train of thought?
Asking for Clarification – Teaching the child to ask questions when the information is not understood. For example “are you talking about a TV show?”
Games such as Follow the Leader, Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light and Barrier Games teach children to listen and follow rules. Children also need the opportunity to practice giving clear directions and it is important to reverse roles and allow the child to give the commands.
Simon Says and Buzzer Games
ADD children typically “act before they think” and consequently make numerous social “faux pas”.
These activities are really helpful in identifying impulsive behaviour and then working towards reducing this. I like to play this type of game by giving the child “5 lives” before they are ‘out’. In this way, the child gets an opportunity to try and inhibit impulsive responses.
In this game two people stare intensely at one another. The first one to blink , smile, or look away is the loser.
This is a great way to teach children about appropriate eye contact and personal space.
iPad apps and computer software programmes often provide the necessary visual feedback necessary for children with difficulties and cater to their visual learning styles. The following are some of the programmes available.
The Social Express (also available as an iPad App) is designed to teach users how to think about and manage social situations, helping them to develop meaningful social relationships and succeed in life.
Social Adventures© (available as an iPad app) is a program designed to provide therapists, teachers and parents all the tools they need to run dedicated social cognition groups or to support kids with social challenges in the classroom, home and community.
Children with learning problems are at risk for low self-esteem. Identifying and addressing social communication difficulties can be invaluable in boosting their self-confidence. Furthermore, a child with good social skills will have an easier time advocating for himself – whether he’s asking a teacher for specific help or coping with teasing and bullying.