When I was getting my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Speech/Language Pathology, social skills were not mentioned in the context of young children, only in terms of functional life skills for adults with aphasia. Of course, that predates the rise of autism spectrum disorders.
Early in my career, students with social skills issues were referred to the guidance counselor or school psychologist. Gradually, students with these needs were moved to the SLP, which left some of us scrambling for materials and strategies to use in therapy. Enter Michelle Garcia Winner with her books and presentations on “Social Thinking” and Carol Gray’s introduction of “Social Stories.” Whew! Now we had published materials to guide us into this new phase of therapy.
Since then, a great deal of research has been done in the areas of social skills, executive functioning, and behavior. In common use in schools today are “the Incredible 5-Point Scale” (Kari Dunn Buron), “Zones of Regulation” (Leah Kuypers), the “SCERTS Model” (Emily Rubin), and “Integrated Play Groups” (Pamela Wolfberg), to name a handful of research- and evidence-based resources available to SLPs, teachers, and parents. Still, we recognize that our students have very complex and diverse needs. We can’t count on a “one size fits all” approach; therefore, we often find ourselves cobbling together elements of various strategies and that, in itself, can be daunting. After all, social skills don’t only happen in the therapy room. Students need to be able to apply learned skills in a wide variety of settings, with a wide variety of social communication partners. This generalization requires educators and caregivers to work closely together in support of the student. And while SLPs and teachers now receive training in social skills, parents do not.
To answer this need, Elizabeth A. Sautter, M.A., CCC-SLP, pulled together the best practices outlined by the above-mentioned authors to create an amazing resource for educators and caregivers to support social and emotional competence and participation by simplifying targeted needs of “following directions, thinking about others, being flexible, reading nonverbal social cues, working in small groups, participating in conversation, advocating for themselves, seeing the ‘big picture,’ and making friends.” Her book, “Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence through Everyday Routines and Activities,” is a must-have for anyone supporting young children with these needs. This well-organized and illustrated book is divided into three sections: At Home, In the Community, and Holidays and Special Events. Each of the nearly 200 daily routines is distilled onto a single page to help the adult guide the child through observation, critical thinking and decision-making, recognizing social cues, understanding expected behavior, and active participation and interaction with adults and peers.
Each page presents “Hidden Rules”: those unstated social contracts and expectations that are often missed by students on the spectrum. Scattered throughout are examples of “job talk,” modifications in how adults speak to children that result in more active participation. Additionally, social learning vocabulary is italicized; this helps all adults to be consistent in the words they use with the student. The book ends with an extensive resource list, visual supports, sample narratives, and a great list of recommended games and social activities for after school and weekend play dates and family interactions. At $21.95, this comprehensive book from AAPC Publishing is an affordable resource for all team members, and that is the key to carryover.
Be sure to visit Elizabeth A. Sautter’s website. There you will find two children’s books about Whole Body Listening Larry, her blog, her events/presentations schedule, and additional resources. Sign up for her free e-newsletter to keep abreast of useful information in the field of social learning.