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What do you think of social skills groups?

(14 Posts)
inappropriatelyemployed Tue 09-Oct-12 23:52:25

These seemed to be recommended without hesitation for every child with ASD but I wonder how measurable and effective they are. I seem to remember reading some research a while back querying their usefulness.

DS has done one sort of social skill group after another for the last two years. Currently he seems to watch news round and playing games etc. but not sure he's learnt anything or is able to generalise it if he had.

bochead Wed 10-Oct-12 07:45:15

DS's last year was run by a really intelligent, effective TA (he's left now to do his PGCEsad to a programme overseen by a superb SALT who put in place really effective measures and proper monitoring. DS was encouraged to practice and generalise each weeks skill learnt in the classroom/playground constantly. I got given targets to work to over the summer hols so the skills were't lost & she came in at the beginning of term to check I'd been a good Mum and to set up this year's

Result = HUGE gain in skills. I was genuinely really shocked at how much progress he made in just one year. (DS got no SALT intervention at all before aged 7). A fooking mazing & well worth the pain of Tribunal that made it possible. The SALT was over the moon too (everyone likes being part of a success story lol!).

However I can see major issues with the model. TA was trained to use the 5P approach (ABA very lite) with a natural gift for this type of stuff, SALT is one gifted lady and very, very conscientious. This is down to pure luck of the draw. Not all SALTS are willing to work with tight targets, measures etc, preferring fluff & to be frank the just work is too advanced for many TA's. The selection of specific children for the group and their individual goals needs to be considered carefully as it helps if their targets are complimentary to one another.

If it helps DS is also very highly motivated to try and be social eg he wants friends but doesn't know how to go about it. He's also very keen to go away and practice being better at social interaction. His 1/2 bro just wants to be left alone so I can't imagine a social skills group being able to achieve the same levels of success at all.

Due to the multiple factors needed to make it such a success, over which you'll have no control whatsoever btw, it's very much the luck of the draw as to whether or not they are a total waste of everyone's time though. I can see that. More complex social and comms skills need a peer group, it's one of the reasons I don't home ed tbh. The London Children's Centre, Ron Holf and a few others do clinic group sessions to help plug the gap where school provision is inadequate.

moondog Wed 10-Oct-12 07:54:21

Generally useless because aims too vague and non measurable.
Once in a blue moon you might come across a good one but most I see are well meaning but inefficient.

I run them but my goals are very tight and data driven.
I am not happy unless I am able to graph up detectable changes in behaviour six or even 12 months on, outside of the group setting.

streakybacon Wed 10-Oct-12 08:14:27

I think they can be useful if it's what the child needs, ie instruction and guidance in social rights and wrongs and how to function in a range of environments. But it's not always an appropriate intervention and I think the reason it's offered so widely is that it's comparatively cheap, which is always a consideration in most schools.

If it's done well, as in bochead's case, a social skills group can work wonders. But if not it can be counter-productive.

My son had several such groups while at primary school but they were very poorly run with no targets, just a range of topics to cover in a tick-box fashion. Nothing was quantified, it was just said that they'd worked on X, Y and Z and that he'd 'done well'. I was given no information or feedback whatsoever, despite asking for it so I could maintain consistency at home. One programme consisted of half an hour a week in a noisy classroom, once a fortnight. They never went outside of the classroom so there was no opportunity to transfer skills learned into a real environment. In ds's case, it was pointless anyway because he knew HOW to behave, he just lacked the self-control to do so in actual situations - what he really needed was a 1-1 supporter to guide him in real time, but IMO that was far too expensive an option to consider so the social skills group was what he was offered instead.

In my experience, social skills groups were unhelpful because of the reputation they seemed to have for guaranateed results. For my son, this meant that teaching staff felt he had no excuse not to behave more appropriately because he'd 'had the training and should know better', so they had unrealistic expectations of his ability. In practice he ended up being punished more and more for deficits he had no control over, and he became increasingly frustrated and more of a management problem for the school than he'd been beforehand.

Ineedalife Wed 10-Oct-12 08:18:44

Dd3 has done a number of them over the last 18 months, but they have had no clear aims and nothing measured to say there has been an improvement in her skills. She is very good at talking the talk but cannot transfer her skills to real life.

She loves going though and it gets her out of the classroom for an hour a week!!!

inappropriatelyemployed Wed 10-Oct-12 08:46:06


The TA who runs them is a teacher and actually , despite her problems on a 1:1 level with DS, she is effective in the group.

However, I am not sure there is any grand plan for what the group is trying to achieve. The SLT is supposed to be a highly specialist ASD SLT and she is very helpful but I have already had to reject targets last term as she wanted to his TA to sit and go through comic strips of incidents with him at the end of the day. At a time when he hated his TA = not good.

Anyway, she is introducing the comic strips into the social skills groups to see how he 'tolerates' them. The idea is when they have watched newsround they will do a comic strip of what someone was thinking and what they said.

I can see what she is trying to do but how on earth does this get generalised and there is no plan ever to generalise this with 'real time' work.

His targets so far have been about sitting next to someone he knows and learning when to put his hand up or how to respond to the rules of the group. But this has not been generalised either and then as streaky says you get the frustration of expectations rising.

We have our own SLT but she has been working round these targets to support them with other work. It is definitley very difficult to have 2 SLTs involved and I am fighting to apply for SEN direct payments for this reason - to give our own SLT a chance to take control. The NHS SLT's intervention has consisted solely of this social skill group work.

The more experienced SLTs always seem to be those that do Tribunal work and reports but who don't work on an ongoing basis with the child.

We instructed an ABA consultant last year to look at social skills. She came in to school and found he was out of the classroom most of the day and ended up concentrating on that. Very effectively but the TA didn't always apply the scheme that consultant had put in place for her so that caused more friction.

I'm not sure which way to go but I would like to plan carefully and consistently for transition.

streakybacon Wed 10-Oct-12 08:54:30

However, I am not sure there is any grand plan for what the group is trying to achieve.

In my experience, the aim is to have on record that a child has been given an intervention - ANY intervention will do, even if it's not what that child needs. It's all box-ticking and brownie points. I've been told time after time that ds's needs were well met in school but none of the support strategies that were made available to him were relevant or appropriate, but on paper it looks as though they were doing a grand job. Makes my wee boil angry.

bochead Wed 10-Oct-12 11:05:39

DS's 1:1 at lunchtime basically spends her time prompting and fading the skills learned in the social skills sessions - a huge factor behind it's success imho as DS needs the generalisation. (It would stop instantly if ever "ABA" was mentioned to the LEA though wink. That's a word that should never ever be said out loud!) I think we've been unbelievably lucky.

At his previous school he was shoved in a "social skills group" behind my back (I'd expressly forbade he take part!) that focused on "anger management". No proper goals/aims/measures or professional oversight, very woolly. [anger] DS's big emotional issue is FEAR & like most ASD kids he has trouble recognising his own emotions. The damage that caused is still being unravelled 2 years later from that rank amateur inappropriate "intervention".

What we haven't had yet is the bog standard "neutral" caring carrot approach so prevelant in many schools lol! I've concluded though it's one of those things that should either be done properly just not attempted at all.

Plonking a TA(untrained in comms) with 3 or 4 kids with no clear goals is summat any Mum could do at the local coffee shop on a Saturday morning with a couple of friends. The fact a similar approach is tried in a school environment doesn't make it effective either.

inappropriatelyemployed Wed 10-Oct-12 11:14:37

Too true bochead, too true. It is so very hard to challenge what is an overwhelming orthodoxy about social skills groups.

Firstly, once schools have set them up and made alot of effort to establish them according to what the SLT wants, it is so disheartening for everyone to start saying - what has this actually achieved?

Secondly, if a SLT says it's needed and designs the programme and you don't agree, you need to have an alternative and that means knowing what the best options are for supporting social skills. This is far from clear.

Thirdly, to change what is happening often then means you have to instruct someone yourself irrespective of the fact that the SLT that is working on the statement isn't working.

Finally, all this hinges on having a school prepared to work with you. We have that but I need to have a firm alternative before I go and upturn everything!

Jaxx Wed 10-Oct-12 11:38:56

Social skills groups can be great, but as everyone has already said it depends on who is planning them and if they are properly targetted.

It has worked really well for my son, but only because I have my son's former ABA Tutor providing plans for the TA at school to follow as she is excellent at pinpointing skills he needs to work on and working out ways do do this in a small group setting. His TA however, even having attended the Ambitious About Autism Social Skills Course, just doesn't get it and at his last annual review questioned his need for social skills groups because he talks to other children. The SENCO ran the group at the beginning of term - she didn't use a plan and isntead had a discussion who the kids should give up seats for on the bus. I am very thankful that I have it written in to this statement that school have to follow the plans provided.

inappropriatelyemployed Wed 10-Oct-12 20:24:58

I agree that these groups can be useful but I still don't know how to get the right help in place though.

badgerparade Wed 10-Oct-12 21:25:51

If ds ever gets to have social skills training I'll let you know sad

mariamma Wed 10-Oct-12 23:24:16

It's a quieter room with fewer kids, a nicer adult and clearer instructions. And a nice break for ds from pretending to understand the literacy work wink

mariamma Wed 10-Oct-12 23:26:11

Respite rather than skill training. One day I might use the memory to teach him about not looking gift horses in the mouth, how to cut your coat to fit your cloth, and beggars not being choosers sad

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