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Improved Social Skills Programming Needed for Students with Autism

By Matthew Gianino, Institute On Disability / UCED
March 12, 2008

In response to the growing need for more effective social skills programming for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), the Institute on Disability at UNH will present “Building Social Relationships and Use of Video Modeling” on Friday, April 11, at the Derryfield Country Club in Manchester.

This workshop, taught by Dr. Scott Bellini, is the third and final installment of the 2007-2008 Research to Practice Series on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

It is widely known that individuals with ASD often have difficulty establishing and sustaining meaningful social relationships with others, and for many students with ASD, school-based social skills programming is prescribed to encourage social, emotional, and cognitive development. According to research conducted by Bellini and the Indiana Resource Center on Autism, however, few students are actually receiving the programming they need and would benefit from most.

In the wake of conducting a large-scale meta-analysis on school-based social skill interventions for students on the autism spectrum, Bellini argues that children with ASD are in desperate need of more effective social skill programming.

Results of the study revealed several problems with current social skills programming practices. First, the research suggests the amount of time spent on social skills interventions (typically 30 hours over 10-12 weeks) is insufficient.

Second, interventions often take place outside of the general education classroom in “pull-out” settings, frequently discouraging the social connection that the programming is meant to support.

Third, students’ social skills are not being assessed correctly, resulting in programming which does not fit students’ individual needs. Finally, because of a lack of resources or a tendency to only use the strategies with which they are most comfortable, educators may not be implementing interventions properly, inadvertently forcing students to “fit” into chosen social skills strategies.

Since a lack of social skills may potentially lead to academic, behavioral, and emotional difficulties, Bellini argues in a recent article that educators “must look for opportunities to teach and reinforce social skills as frequently as possible throughout the school day, and not just in pull-out settings…Teachers and other school personnel should [also] place a premium on selecting social skill interventions that can be reasonably implemented within multiple naturalistic settings. This is particularly important for children with ASD, who may have considerable difficulties transferring skills from one setting to another.”

During the morning session of the two-part workshop, Bellini will briefly highlight his most recent research on the effectiveness of school-based social skills interventions before providing an overview of a social skill instructional model which he developed.

The five-step model provides parents and practitioners with a systematic and comprehensive framework to guide the development and implementation of social skills programming in the general education classroom.

During the afternoon, Bellini will discuss his research on video modeling, one social skills intervention technique which has shown positive results when implemented properly for appropriate students in the right settings.

Video modeling is a teaching method that involves having children watch a pre-recorded video of a task or behavior, and then having them copy what they have seen. This technique of using videotaped rather than “live” scenarios for children to observe helps to focus their attention and create a highly effective stimulus for learning.

Bellini is the assistant director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at Indiana University, Bloomington (IUB), and an assistant professor with the IUB School Psychology program. In addition to his work at the university, Bellini operates a therapeutic clinic specializing in social skills programming for children and adolescents on the autism spectrum.

He has published numerous articles and spoken nationally on the topic of social-emotional functioning and programming for children with ASD. He is also the author of the book “Building Social Relationships,” which was named the 2007 Literary Work of the Year by the Autism Society of America.

The program is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is $125 and includes workshop materials, continental breakfast, and lunch. For more information and to register go to http://iod.unh.edu/events.html#rtp3 or call 2-2084

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