Social Skills Groups For Kids With Special Needs

About a year into my child’s social skills group, me and few other parents began to talk. There were five kids in our group. When the kids are in a session, the parents wait in the lobby. This particular facility allows the parents to leave during this time. Sometimes we go shopping or for a walk. Often, we stay. We read or write on a laptop (that would be me) or we talk.

This one time we began discussing how valuable we all felt these social skills groups were for our children. And, we came up with an idea: To ask our case workers for a second group.

We all went home and during the next week called our child’s regional center case workers. (Again, we could do this because we live in California and a regional center provides services to our child on the autism spectrum.)

We requested a second social skills group. All of the various case workers understood our requests and said they would look into it and get back to us. They not only needed to submit a formal request to their respective regional centers but they needed to contact the social skills facility to see if a new group was warranted and could be helpful for our kids.

Now, take into consideration this was over four years ago. It was a time before regional centers were budget tight. The case workers were more open to, at least, putting in a request for a program and even, in some cases, encouraging their supervisor that the program was needed. They diligently followed up with parental requests such as these. Not that they don’t do that know, but these days they are being asked to consider their budget. 

Turned out, our children were all approved for a second social skills group session. All five kids had two one and half hour sessions per week. As a social group of our own, us parents got together and agreed on a good “second” day. We all checked our schedules and found a day that worked for all of us. Once our second day was agreed upon, we all brought our kids twice a week instead of once a week. The group had the same kids (for a while, anyway) and I believe even the facilitators were the same (again, for a while).

I have always considered this accomplishment special. Here we were, a group of parents sitting in a lobby each week waiting for our kids. We were talking, seeing each other once a week, same day, same time. That’s all we were doing. And then, one day, we brainstormed. And what did we come up with? Two social skills groups instead of one!

Unfortunately, I wish I could report that this worked out well for our son. Yet, it didn’t really. Having two social skills groups created a problem with our child. And the lesson I learned is something I termed, “learning how to scale back.” It is a lesson you may need to learn. You may need to know when “scaling back” on your child’s program(s) is okay. And here’s why…

After my child was apparently comfortable with two social skills groups per week, I had thought the problem of him really learning his social skills could now be doubly handled. What could be better? I had thought.

Well, about a year into this two-per-week situation, my child began to have behaviors in his second group. They didn’t just last one or two sessions, either. They continued for a few weeks and began to concern the facilitators. He was having trouble settling down within the group. He often didn’t want to participate and he frequently claimed his “engine was high.”

These issues were happening mostly in the second group. The first group met on Wednesdays and the second group on Thursdays. Eventually, his behaviors in the second group went on long enough that the facilitator realized that our child just couldn’t handle two social skills groups two days in a row.

What was the recommendation?

That he “scale back” into something called social skills partner. What is social skills partner?

Basically, the facilitator did not want to simply cut my son from that second group and allow him to only attend one group. She thought a more valuable option was to give him one on one support within a partner situation. This is called social skills partner.

Social skills partner is an hour long session with two kids, both of whom have their own one on one facilitator for individual support. The partners work together on projects and activities. Each of them has a facilitator right next to them for immediate support. As always, the two partners have to be properly “matched,” developmentally, that is.

And, this scaling back worked!

The lesson I’d like to impart here is about “scaling back.” First, a pattern had developed. Our child didn’t simply have one or two bad sessions. They were consistently bad. And, they were consistently within his second social skills group, and not the first. Then, the facilitators discussed what to do and all agreed that our child would benefit from one group and one partner situation. They explained their thoughts to us, and we eventually agreed.

Did it feel like we had failed?

Maybe, at first. Then, later on, no. We had scaled back on program yet replaced it with another very valuable program. It is just as important that our child learn how to interact within a group as well as interact with just one other peer. This way, he got to do both each week.

There is no failure here at all. It is all about adjustments. They constantly need to be made. For example, your child may eat one food for months and then “suddenly” not like that food anymore. Their taste for that food might have changed. So, what do you do? You adjust.

I am still recommending social skills individual, partner, and/or groups for all children on the spectrum. They are concentrated efforts with professional facilitators that are there to help our kids learn skills they do not naturally possess. And, from what I’ve seen, they work.

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