Social skills are essential to anything you do these days, from walking into a classroom to picking up that cup-o-joe at your nearest Starbucks. We need social skills every day to function in our society. Most of us will learn these social skills as we grow up by learning from our parents, teachers, and others around us. However, for the Autism population and others with social deficits, these skills need to be taught concretely at an early age. They should also be taught throughout the lifespan.
I have been teaching individuals social skills since I first started working with the Autism population by running social skills groups. Lately, I have been teaching these skills individually. Even though I have seen some success, I have always found that groups add a different dimension to the learning process. Something is better than nothing. However, I have found that the group approach is the most beneficial way individuals acquire this information for social skills to be taught most effectively. Here are my reasons that individuals should get group social skills:
In Vivo Experience
You aren't just learning from your group leader; you are also learning from others around you. When someone is learning social skills, you hope that they have a teacher who can teach these skills, but individuals will also be learning from their peers. The interactions between peers can be an excellent way for individuals to learn how to behave (or not behave) in social situations.
Practicing with Different People
You can practice with a variety of individuals. The world and the people in it are different, so it is beneficial to understand how people vary in their comments and responses. One of the components of social skills groups are role-play activities. When you practice with one person, they might give you the same reactions. However, when you can partner up with different people, you may find yourself getting different responses, alerting your brain to come up with other answers.
Working & Compromising with Others
You learn to work with others. When you work with groups, you will have opportunities to work, speak, and engage with others. You will also have to compromise, which is a skill that individuals with autism may struggle with; you will have to work together to have a cohesive group.
You will learn perspective-taking. One of the more significant struggles for those on the spectrum is their difficulties with perspective-taking. Perspective-taking is the idea that other people have different thoughts and emotions than we do. During a group, you will see different perspectives within the group. You will have the opportunity to see that other people have different ideas than we do, which is an important skill to learn in the real world.
Making Mistakes Without Worrying
You will have the opportunity to make mistakes. Making mistakes is hard and anxiety-provoking, but you can make a mistake during the group. It will be corrected by someone who teaches you and understands that making mistakes is part of the process. Groups should be a safe place for people to practice because they are all learning similar skills.
Making friendships during a group can occur. Even though groups are not created for this purpose, friendships may develop after groups are over. Individuals may have similar interests, so it may be easy to form social relationships based on common interests.
More Cost Effective
Social Skills Groups are often cheaper than individual treatment. Usually, social skills are a fraction of what individual therapy might cost you. It also works better for most individuals because of all the reasons I mentioned above.
Groups are an awesome way for you to learn skills that you wouldn't necessarily learn in the real world. However, not all groups are created equal. Remember to do you homework and find a group that uses evidence based practices. Make sure that the group facilitator will also screen individuals before the group starts to make sure that each individual is working on similar goals.
To learn more about groups, or if you are interested in a social skills group, please email me at email@example.com.
Monica Wells, LMHC is a therapist in New York specializing in working with pre-teens, teens, and young adults with autism spectrum disorders and other social learning conditions. For more information about her practice, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.