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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Social Skill Development Programs in Teens

     I don't usually get inspiration for this blog while at the hairdresser or from people magazine.  However, a few weeks ago People Magazine highlighted a unique program developed at UCLA to help teens gain awareness, understanding and improved use of social pragmatic skills.  Given my extensive work with middle school and high school students, I know exactly they type of student the program is designed for.  The People article

talks about a 17 year old boy and his lack of understanding on how to act and interact with peers.  It briefly describes the program he went through.  
     The program is called PEERS, Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relationship Skills. PEERS is a manualized, social skills training intervention for adolescents and young adults. 

     This is a program that addresses a critical skill that is rarely addressed within the public school setting.  It's difficult to understand that social skills do not develop in some people because social skills are usually acquired in such a natural fashion.  I've never seen a developmental chart guideline for the development of social skills.  Social skills are not concrete skills like acquiring good grammatical skills.  We can measure and assess grammatical usage with ease.  With social skills, professionals can tell something is wrong and we can describe it.  Very few pragmatic language tests are out there and I've never reviewed one that was able to really identify a pragmatic issue without detailed observation and analysis from a professional.  As a matter of fact most older students will test within the average range on formal pragmatic assessments.  This leaves kids similar to Joey basically in limbo.  
     I was excited to read about this program.  I'm glad someone has identified this as a significant need.  The recent law suit in Massachusetts, (see previous post) highlights that more needs to be done in the area of social skill development for adolescents and young adults.  Frankly in my opinion it should start a lot earlier.

Social Skills for Teenagers with Developmental and Autism Spectrum Disorders: The PEERS Treatment Manual


Teresa Buckley Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc said...

Apparently PEERS received 500 enquiries after the People Magazine article. I'm actually suprised it wasn't more. Here is the link to the updated story


Teresa Buckley Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc said...

PEERS is having a training session in April in LA. I shot them a quick e-mail to ask if any training sessions on the East Coast are planned. You can purchase the manual for less than 100.00 and I may do that. However, I wonder how strong your background has to be to clearly understand the needs of these students. Personally I've had very good success designing programs in conjunction with our school psychologist to address the needs of students who have disabilities in the area of social pragmatic skills.

Anonymous said...

I think the article about Joey is interesting, but I also think that it makes light of one major factor: "But unlike a few months ago-when he'd lock himself in his room and watch YouTube for hours-he now has people he can talk to."

This upset me so much, because I think the internet is a HUGE contributing factor when it comes to this younger generation having problems interacting with other people. I'm not saying that the internet is inherently bad (I wouldn't be online right now if I thought it was), but I do believe that because of the internet people's view of personhood begins to change when they interact through a screen so often. How are we supposed to know when someone is hurt, sad, angry, happy, without the very important facial clues that we see in one on one interaction.

This boy was obviously looking for human interaction through those YouTube videos, and I think the article should have looked more closely into that.

Teresa Buckley Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc said...

Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog.I agree that kids spend way too much time interacting on the computer, texting and playing video games. I've come to accept that that is the way typical kids communicate. Do I like it, are they loosing out on learning interpersonal interactions yes. However, typical kids somehow manage to adjust and develop the skills they need through even limited interpersonal interactions. They read cues and they take cues. They usually turn out ok.
Kids like Joey are disabled. Even if they are face to face they do not know how to read non-verbal cues such as sarcasm, facial expressions and body language. They don't know how to read situations. They may have a poor understanding of multiple meaning and figurative language. The only thing that helps kids like Joey is early identification, specific therapy and consistent guidance. Their world is often black and white, they like structure and hate change. While this isn't a new disability, identifying and treating it is. In the past many people with pragmatic disabilities we often labeled with a mental illness. Some of these students are also very bright so it is hard to understand why they are like this or why they can't help themselves.
Pragmatic disabilities are very complex and frankly difficult to understand unless you have a lot of experience with the population.