As a reminder, the first thing you need to address when teaching social skills is communication. If a child cannot effectively, even in a limited capacity, communicate feelings, needs, and desires, they cannot be expected to progress and utilize appropriate behavior in a social gathering.
So, once you have a basic form of communication established, where do you start next? Should you join in on the offerings and opportunities available to homeschoolers? Well, that depends. Would I recommend you start off with a homeschool support group that may contain 30 or more families, where they meet in a large building or church, as a starting place? NO!!!!!
Let me explain why. Our unique children bring in information differently than the average individual. For most, there are sensory issues involved. It is extremely easy for these children to become over stimulated very quickly. They hear things others do not or things others don’t pay attention to. The visual stimulation, of new surroundings, people in motion, and the variety of colors can assault these children’s visual input. Smells, that others don’t notice, can over-stimulate the nose. Just the idea of going into a new place may not only excite but often overwhelms these children and leads them to experience great anxiety. This anxiety can also be transferred to the parent, who may be on edge to see if her little one “behaves”, and it may even extend to others if something negative does occur.
The best place to start working on social skills is within the home. You can start teaching the child that it is not okay to hit to get someone’s attention nor when they are upset. You can have a “play store” to teach them how to buy things and interact with a cashier. You can create a “play library” and teach them how to find a book or ask the librarian for help. During meals, you can teach them appropriate table talk and utensil use. You can have siblings play with each other. Remember social skills involve how one interacts in any given situation, so the home and running errand are a fantastic place to learn the basics.
After you start within your home, you then select one or two children for child play dates. When you start off, do ONLY one child at a time. I would recommend that you initially do it at your house, since you can control the environment much easier. When you start this, do not walk away in another room. You need to be nearby so if your child has a melt down or there is inappropriate interaction you can quickly and easily intervene. You let the child calm down, if able, and then restart. You may have to end the play date. It is okay. There is always another day. Remember on these early play dates to keep them short. Don’t expect your unique little one to be able to interact for several hours the first go around.
After you have success with one on one play time and interaction at your house, then try to go to one of those friends house for a play date. Again, you need to be nearby in case you need to take action. From there, you can move onto a small group. For example, you may want to go to a park with a few individuals for them to play or you may wish to have a small group over to play a game. Again, you are always nearby in case there is a need.
As you can see in this process, you start small and in a very controlled manner. Then as you have success you move SLOWLY out, adding more individuals and into less controlled environments. Now, there will be times that you may have to take a step back and “regress” a little. You have to progress at the child’s speed but at the same time carefully introduce him to more and more things.
Please be patient; this process can take several years. Remember to celebrate your successes! Even if it isn’t a huge event for a different family, it is for yours. Celebrate them. Announce the success to others. Who knows you may even give hope to others out there. Just a reminder, I welcome success stories ([email protected]).
Oh, and when you finally think they have it all figured out, puberty hits and new rules come into play. This is followed by dating.
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Written by: Susan Harris
Homeschool.com News Editor