Well, it’s Tuesday BITs (Brain Issue Therapies) again already, and today, as foretold in last week’s post, I will open that can of worms called social skills.
Have you discovered the television sitcom The Big Bang Theory yet? Could also be titled Four Nerds and a Pretty Girl which pretty much sums up the premise. Besides having an awesome theme song by the Barenaked Ladies, the Sheldon character is very much a study in aspergers. He’s a theoretical physicist that can plumb the depths of quantum physics but doesn’t understand sarcasm, or birthday celebrations, or being socially flexible. In this clip, titled the Friendship Algorithim, Sheldon creates a friendship flow-chart. Watch.
See? What more do you need to know about making friends?
One of the other fabulous lines that I find myself continually hearkening back to was when Sheldon was disputing the need to to buy his friend, Leonard, a birthday present. His friend, Howard eventually tells him
It’s a non-negotiable social protocol.”
Which of course Sheldon accepts without protest.
And really, that’s what teaching social skills is like. For the socially impaired, it’s quite literally learning a second language. They need access to flow charts and a list of non-negotiable social protocols committed to memory.
Big Bang Theory aside, the overall approach we’re taking with social skills training is Social Thinking. (Really, there is so much great information at this website. You should go there and look around. I couldn’t possibly do it justice.)
Overall, instead of teaching a way of behaving, we’re teaching a way of thinking. Because, while you can teach a kid to look someone in the eye and shake their hand whenever they meet someone, we all know that there are times when that isn’t the right thing to do. But how can the socially impaired person tell? By learning a way of thinking about social situations rather than a specific way to behave.
This is a very useful model for those who have high-functioning autism (aspergers, PDD-NOS). That’s a weird sounding sentence because it sounds like the autism is high-functioning, not the child, but I try to avoid saying “My child is autistic” because I don’t think her disorder defines her. She has autism. She isn’t autism.
Back to my point.
We used the Super-Flex program to start off with. Super-Flex is the super-hero, and he has a cast of villains that are getting in the way of his ultimate goal of social success. The villains are great like Rock Brain, who stops you from thinking about anything else but one topic, or Wasfunnyonce, who made people laugh once and continued to repeat the same joke in the hope that people will continue to laugh. It works well in that it takes the realm of social skills outside of yourself. It’s not me who’s bad, my brain has just been taken over by Rock Brain. But, I can fight him with my super-flexible thinking!
It is better for younger kids though. Still for the pre-teens and teenagers it’s a good place to start.
We’ve also been using social behaviour mapping. This outlines a location or situation (like going grocery shopping) and the therapist and the child come up with expected and unexpected behaviours and what are the results of each. What is the likely results of my expected or unexpected behaviours?
The guiding principle that we’ve been trying to insill has been this: Is what I’m doing going to give the people around me good or weird thoughts; i.e, will people see what I’m doing and think “That’s a bit strange.” or “She seems nice.”
And so help me, it’s starting to work. At times she still seems robotic, but as she isn’t fluent yet, that’s to be expected. You’d be the same way if we imported you into a foreign country with only cursory knowledge of the language right?
That’s the thing I’m learning about social skills, we all speak with an accent of some kind.
So, how’s the social skills training going for you? Found other stuff that works we should know about? Tried anything that was useless? That’s good information too. Please share.
PS: We actually do use Big Bang Theory for social skills training. My daughter has to do some work she doesn’t like (social behaviour mapping) and her reward (or reinforcer if you will) is that she gets to watch an episode or two of The Big Bang Theory, which she loves. Our Chekov (home therapist) pauses whenever there’s a lesson to be learned and says things like “Did you see Penny’s face there? What do you think she’s feeling?” or “Do you think that Sheldon should have said that? What could he have done differently?”
PPS: There is some risque stuff in Big Bang Theory, so not for the under-ten set, and depending on your parenting thresholds may not be appropriate for the under 14 crowd.