Social Inclusion for Young Adults

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan 1.31.19

Friendship. For many people, friendship is one of the most important things in life.  Why does friendship carry such weight for us?  What exactly does it mean to have a friend?  What does it mean to be a friend?  What are the different kinds of friends?

Friendship is a complex concept.  We start to see signs of interest in friendship early in life, as studies show social interest during the first year of life.  As we develop, the concept of friendship changes with us.  We go from simple interaction and play skills to intricate and complicated social relationships.  Navigating the world of friendship is not necessarily easy, and most of us do not go through life without some bumps in the road regarding friendship and social interaction.

How then, do people with autism and other social anxiety issues manage to form and maintain friendships?  Sadly, there are still people with autism at all age levels who don’t have friends.  Today I am going to focus on young adults.

Young adults with autism and other unique abilities often struggle socially when they leave the school system.  Some of these young adults goon to attend college while others go into the workplace.  Some attend training programs, and there are still some who end up with limited support and direction for their future.  Whatever path they have taken, social interaction and friendship can be a challenge.

Take, for example, a young adult who attended the same school system from kindergarten through high school.  He or she may have developed friendships and social connections within that school setting, but while the high school peers move on to college or work they will often branch out to meet new people while maintaining some connection with a few close high school friends.  Unfortunately, people with disabilities don’t always stay in that loop.  Meanwhile, finding friends in college or in the workplace for a young adult with autism is far more challenging than it is for their high school peers who don’t have autism.  Other college students or coworkers don’t understand them, might find them difficult to interact with or seem awkward in other ways.  Without that life history the young adult had with school-age peers, finding acceptance might not be as easy.

What can we do to better support young adults with autism in college and in the community?

  • Just like with our younger kids with autism (see earlier blogpost from 11-16-18), we can look into joining social groups with common interests.  College campuses offer a wide variety of groups, and most colleges are willing to facilitate new groups fairly easily.  I have known young adults with autism who have successfully been able to start a social interest group on a college campus in order to meet others with similar interests.  Start with what already exists, and if there isn’t a good group for your student encourage him or her to work on starting group.
  • Look into colleges who have extra support for people with autism and other needs.  Most colleges have disability services to help with academic accommodations and many have support services such as counseling.  Some colleges have started implementing peer mentor programs specifically to help students with autism adjust to life on campus.  This website provides more detailed information on colleges who have amazing programs specifically to support students with ASD on campus.
  • Look for community resources to provide job support for students with ASD.  There are many local, county, and state programs designed to help people with different needs find and keep jobs.  These organizations will often offer job coaching and mentoring.
  • Inquire locally about businesses that are more friendly to hiring and supporting people with different needs.
  • Look into local organizations who support people with autism and other different needs, as they may have resources to help connect young adults with opportunities for social inclusion.  Some organizations that have local chapters include Autism Society of America, The Arc, and The National Down Syndrome Society.

Thanks for reading and join us again next time!

Resource Review 1: Social Skills Tools

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With so many great resources available to help kids and adults on the autism spectrum with social skills, it is very difficult to decide which things to try.  It is also difficult not to get a little overwhelmed with the choices.

We have spent a lot of time working with people who have social challenges and have tried many different tools, books, and structured lessons.  We have yet to find The Perfect Tool for Everyone, and we are not sure if this exists (yet).  Some things to keep in mind when you’re looking for resources:

  1. Who will be using the book or resource.  A child or teen with social challenges?  A parent?  A teacher?  A clinical professional?  Search for materials that will be fitting for the person who will actually be looking through them the most.  Social skills picture books, cue cards, strongly visual tools will work well when given to a child or teen with challenges.  Teachers might look for resources they can use naturally throughout the day in the classroom, while social workers and other clinicians might look for curriculum-based resources.
  2. What is the context for the use of the book or resource.   A group?  Individual sessions?  Home-based teaching?  In-vivo learning with peers present? Some of the resources available are specifically designed for leading social skills groups.  Others provide information and guidance for individualized teaching fo social skills.
  3. What are the needs of the person who will be learning social skills. Addressing social anxiety?  Conversational skills?  Basic manners?  Community social skills?  While many of the books and resources available have comprehensive skills lists, some are more focused on specific skills.  If an individual really only needs to focus on conversation with peers, search for materials with an emphasis on conversation rather than larger books that cover multiple skill deficits.
  4. Where will the resource be used.  In clinical or school settings, some of the curriculum-based materials will be useful and will provide good guidance and structure.  For home and community-based learning, simple visual tools and cards may be a good choice to work on specific skills in the natural context.

Here are three great resources to consider:

1. Jed Baker has a number of books on the market to help with social skills and behavior.  We would like to highlight his book Social Skills Training: For Children and Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and Social-Communication Problems  (2003).

What we like about this book:

  • Baker has created a curriculum for teaching social skills to groups of kids.  This book includes a basic assessment in the form of a social skills checklist. The list is broken down into groupings of social skills, such as conversation and empathy.  Prior to the first session, the parents complete the assessment, and then the group facilitator can choose which skills to spend the most time on based on the needs of the group.
  • The book provides suggestions and guidelines for how to structure the sessions, including setting up group rules and implementing a reward system for skills and behavior.
  • Each individual skill has a chapter with guidelines, allowing the group leader to use activities to teach that skill.
  • Each individual skill has a take-home handout for practicing the skill at home.

What we find challenging about this book:

  • This book is thorough and provides a great framework for teaching social skills to a group.  Some of the activities can be adapted to use in individual sessions with kids as well.  The only thing about this book that could possibly be improved would be to include handouts for parents.  Baker provides suggestions for parents to practice at home, but these are general guidelines for the whole course of study.  Parent handouts for particular skills would be a helpful addition to this book.

2.  Specifically designed for teens, we would like to highlight The Social Success Workbook for Teens by Barbara Cooper and Nancy Widdows (2008).  This book is  an easy-to-follow an manageable workbook to use individually with teens who are struggling with a number of social skills difficulties.

What we like about this book:

  • The user-friendly format.  Each chapter provides brief vignettes related to a specific skill, along with activities to work on practicing that skill.
  • Inclusion of multiple factors that lead to social difficulties, including activities to help teens understand themselves and their own responses in social situations so that they can learn to identify and overcome obstacles.
  • Easy activities to encourage skill development.
  • Nice, simple visuals with each chapter.
  • The book is designed for individual use, and is presented in a way that makes it easy to use for parents, teens, or therapists.

What we find challenging about this book:

  • Some of the activities have an emphasis on drawing, which does not work well with all teens.
  • Some teens with social difficulties will need assistance using this book effectively.  We would like to see some basic guidelines included at the beginning of the book to help guide families and professionals to ensure that the right amount of support is available to the teens using the book.

3.  There are many conversation-starter tools available, including card decks, games, and conversation balls.  We would like to highlight the Chat Pack for Kids as a resource for helping with conversations in the home and practicing for improved conversation with peers.  The Chat Pack for Kids is one of several Chat Pack card decks with fun questions to spark conversation.

What we like about these cards:

  • They are small and easy to keep in a drawer, purse, or glove compartment.
  • They have fun and thought-provoking questions for kids.
  • They can be used in many ways to start and practice conversation.  Each little card has one question.  Families, teachers or clinicians can use these cards by (1) Having each person answer their own question cards in turn, helping people get to know each other in a group; (2) Having everyone in the group or conversation answer their own question cards as well as the other participants’ question cards; (3) Using the question cards to encourage further conversation about that topic with follow-up questions and comments.
  • The cards can be used for short or longer durations.  Leaders and participants can decide to do 5 cards each or 20 cards each, allowing for flexibility in many settings and circumstances (car rides, dinner table, social skills groups).

What we find challenging about these cards:

  • We would like to see a Chat Pack specifically for teens.

We have a lot of additional resources we use for social skills and may provide more reviews in the future.  In the meantime, check out these great tools, and send us your own feedback or questions!

Kaarin Anderson Ryan 12-15-18

 

Our next journey begins.

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA; Darlene Magito-McLaughlin, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA; Christopher Smith, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA

 

Thanks for joining us!

Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping it will transform into a door. ~ Coco Chanel

We are a group of experienced psychologists and behavior analysts who have been working together for over 20 years.  We have actively worked in our communities to help all kinds of people with different needs, including individuals with autism, their families, and the professionals who support them.  Much of our work has been through consultation and therapy services, as well as community involvement and the establishment of a local community foundation on Long Island to provide social opportunities for people with unique needs.

So why start this blog?

Although we have been able to help many families in New York and in Michigan, where our offices are located, we still hear about a lot of unmet needs and unanswered questions when it comes to supporting people in homes, schools, and community settings.  We decided it was time to share some of our experience, resources, and insights with a larger audience.  Our goal is to give you tools, resources and insights to help you deal with everyday challenges.  We will be posting weekly to give people the best information we have to help with a huge variety of problems that come up when you are navigating the world of special needs, behavior management, and community supports.

Today, we’d like to start our series on friendship.  All too often, people who have different needs are granted so many resources to help them with academic skills, with daily living skills, with behavior management issues, but are not given as many resources to help them with a basic skill that can promote life satisfaction and happiness.  The skill of making friends.

How many of you have seen someone with different needs struggle to find and keep friends? How many of you have watched as someone you love blunders in social situations, time after time?  Have you ever had to bite your tongue to not offer support and help to a teenager with autism as they muddle their way through a conversation with a peer?

We have seen this time and again. And while there are lots of programs and books out there to help people build these skills, some of these are overwhelming, expensive, and yet one more thing to have to worry about.  Often for families and other support givers, these social needs can fall to the back burner in favor of more pressing needs, like passing a class or learning how to get ready for school in the morning.

What to do?

  • Start with practicing basic conversation at home or in class.  Try using conversation starters, like a Chat Pack or a Thumball .
  • Help kids, teens and young adults by letting them role-play and rehearse with you for different types of conversations they might have trouble with on a regular basis.
  • Invite family or friends who have kids around the same age for *brief* playdates:  An hour or less to start.  After the playdate make note of what went well and what seemed to be a challenge.  Give your child a lot of positive feedback for the things that went well.  Before the next playdate, practice some solutions for the things that were difficult.
  • Look into local groups or gatherings that might be of interest.  For younger kids this might include library groups or activities, for teens there might be clubs and organizations at school.  Check the website for your community   Search “Upcoming events for kids in (name of your town/city )to find upcoming events that might provide opportunities for social inclusion.  Champaign, IL has a great example with chambanamoms, and Colorado Springs offers mykidsweek.
  • Make sure you have a good system to communicate between home and school about how things are going socially in both settings.  Work together to tackle challenges and exchange information about things that are going well so you can build on them together.  If your student seems to be spending some time with any particular kids, share that information with the family soon, don’t wait for the next IEP meeting!
  • If your child is really struggling to gain skills, seek support from a therapist who specializes in autism to unique needs, or look into ABA therapy for more intensive skill development support.
  • Follow the lead of the individual you support. Some people will do better with less social interaction and pressure.  The important thing is for the person to be getting what he or she wants socially, not what other people think he or she should want.

Most importantly, do not give up on the person you are supporting, whether it is your child, your student, or someone you are supporting in a community setting.

Join us again next week, when we will be going into more depth about resources for friendship and social skills, with our own review on several products.