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Social Skills Aren't Just About Doing It Right

Posted Jan 09 2013 8:41pm
Our private social skills "group" has hit a snag. I put the "group" in quotes, because until next week, it is only two kids- Joey and "Buddy." Next week, an old friend returns to our group, "Mr. Man." (I hope to have some more posts up with Mr. Man in them, because he and Joey have a very interesting relationship.) The two currently there were matched up by our OT, who works closely with them in a program called Social Thinking . They are learning about important things like body language, expected and unexpected responses, and how to tell when someone is talking to you, etc. etc. Buddy has some similar language patterns to Joey, but in some ways is more verbal, but in some ways far more inflexible. Both have difficulties with processing, and need a lot of external processing support and time. I was told this pair was a good match for the group, and Joey likes to go.

Over the two-week break, Joey informed me that he doesn't like Buddy. He was so clear about this that I decided the OT needed to know, to head off any problems.

You know you are about to have an interesting new conversation when you pull your OT aside after group, and say, "Miss L, Joey told me... he doesn't like Buddy..." and she cuts you off with a cheery, "Oh! Good!"

Often enough when we have Joey in groups, it can be very difficult for us to figure out exactly what Joey is getting from the other children. He seems to be modeling for the other kids, but not having much modeled for him. I know things are working because of the improvements we see, but I haven't figured out exactly why it works. What's in it for Joey?

IN our little pairsome, Joey is again the model. Joey is very good at learning the proper way to do things, and modeling that in controlled settings. Buddy is not. He needs the foil of Joey to work on how things are done right. Hence, he often makes "unexpected choices." Buddy does not respond in the ways JOey is being taught he should be responding. For example, if Buddy is sitting in the middle of the hall, and Joey wants to get by, we have taught him to politely ask, "Can you please move over so I can get by?" He then expects the response of the child moving aside so he can get by, because the other children have been taught that when someone asks you to move aside so they can get by, you move aside.

Buddy ignores him, and stay right where he is. Sometimes he may be playing a game in his head, and says something that seems arbitrary to Joey, like, "Pow! You lose a turn!" This is very confusing for Joey.

However, this is a common issue to think about in any social skills or anti-bullying campaign. You are being taught to react to situations in certain ways, do certain things, with the denouement being the bully starts being nice and everyone lives happily ever after. Right?

And yet we have all figured out it doesn't work that way. People do unexpected things. The bully keeps being mean. The co-worker keeps stealing your lunch. The neighbor keeps letting the dog bark. Mom still doesn't buy you the toy. Now what?

For the past three years, Joey has had in his IEP a goal to deal with bullying. It is an unfortunate truth that bullying will likely be a fact of life for Joey, and he needs to be specifically taught the coping skills most of us learn just by having to deal with jerks all the time. What do you do when you do everything right, and the situation is still wrong? Or unexpected?

This is one of the things Joey has been discovering and learning in group this year. How do you deal with the anti-social behaviors of others? If people make you feel uncomfortable, what is the appropriate and expected way to respond? What is a proper way to resolve an unexpected issue or response? Buddy stays put; Joey has to learn how to step around him, and perhaps go do something else. When Buddy says something that seems not to make sense, Joey is learning how to respond. When Buddy isn't nice to him, Joey is learning what to do. He is learning that not everyone in a class or group is a friend, and that it is OK that not everyone you meet, or who is in your classroom, is not your friend. You don't have to be friends with everybody. People who treat you in mean ways are not friends, and you do not need or want to be friends with them. He is learning to deal with people who are not friends, without being rude or unexpected- and how to be safe in dealing with people who are not your friends.

These are skills the school keeps saying they can't teach Joey because "no one bullies him."

I call hockey pucks.


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