At Therapeutic Options, we set up social skills groups to meet every week throughout the school year. While this may seem like a long time, especially when compared to providers who offer smaller, shorter sessions of six- to eight- week sessions, we have found through our extensive experience that the full-year sessions provide greater benefits to our students.
We believe that the group format is the optimal setting for working on social skills development because it provides our clients with the opportunity to become a member of a community. Many of the participants in our program have rarely or never experienced the feeling of belonging to a group. While they may have been involved in extracurricular activities, these programs do not guarantee that everyone will ‘fit in’. Moreover, many of our kids have reported that they are unsure of whether or not they are accepted by their typically developing peers.
Because fitting in is a common concern of many of our group members, many activities that we do in the beginning of the year are designed to foster and strengthen a group identity. A few things that we do to create this identity include choosing a group name by consensus; checking in and sharing personal experiences at the beginning of each session as a way for members to better get to know each other; and organizing group parties to share experiences and learn cooperation.
Very quickly, children discover that our social skills groups are safe places, where they will not be judged or criticized. Over time, trusting relationships begin to develop and the children become more willing to share their own social-communicative difficulties.
The development of group cohesion requires an initial investment of time (hence the year-long commitment), but once in place, the group setting becomes rich with social learning opportunities. Actively engaging in a social group experience provides children with meaningful, relevant, ongoing interactions that create a continuous flow of organic opportunities to work on and work through Social Thinking and social problem solving abilities.
Group members build their own social awareness and understanding through role plays, exercises and discussion. Through gameplay other activities, they improve their observational skills and strategies to help them regulate their emotions and behaviors towards others. The dynamic group process provides authentic opportunities to address conflict, work on self-advocacy, and provide and receive advice and feedback on their real-life situations.
Belonging to a group feels good and the experience tends to be highly motivating. Ongoing membership requires work, as one must think about the needs and interests of everyone in the group. It requires noticing how other people react to you – your behavior, your conversation skills, how you demonstrate interest in others. One learns about how much talking is too much, and to recognize when your audience is bored or confused.
Our kids learn through experience that sometimes, it is necessary to compromise or refrain from a behavior if this will benefit the group as a whole. For example, in many of our groups, the children have some latitude in deciding how to spend the last ten minutes of the hour. If four kids want to play Uno and one wants to play a board game, the board gamer begins to understand why it’s better to accept majority rule. By doing so, he is making a pro-social decision that helps secure his acceptance by others and membership in his group.
These and other skills are taught as a natural outgrowth of the group experience. While our focus in any given group is a function of the individual needs of the members, we typically work on the following areas (among many others):
- Recognizing facial expressions and body language
- Recognizing emotions in oneself and others
- Mastering the rules of conversations
- Friendship building skills
- Self-advocacy skills
The year-long social skills group not only teaches our kids social skills development, but also allows them to gain an understanding of the value of social development. Because we focus on group identity and foster a sense of belonging, the kids in our groups learn to motivate themselves to discover how to better relate to their peers and their environments. This is one of the biggest benefits of our social skills program.
Please give us a call at 973 276 9040 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in learning more about or signing up for the 2015-2016 social skills group curriculum.