Direct Instruction and Role Playing
Teaching social skills to PDD boys and girls is different from teaching social skills to children without PDD. Children with PDD often need direct instruction and solid guidelines that they can follow in social situations, due to their concrete thinking and tendency to learn by rote. Direct instruction is the obvious way to provide this.
For example, a child without PDD may learn how to enter a group of playing children by simply observing others doing so, or by trial and error. If your child has PDD, however, and you see that she has difficult entering the group, you will need to give her the tools she will need to be successful in the situation in the future. You might teach your child with PDD to wait for a slight break in the action and then to come up to one of the players and say, "Hi, can I play too?" Break the skill into small steps with very specific actions that the child can do. Then role play with your child or use social skills games for kids with PDD to give her the chance to practice the skill, and give her feedback on how she did. When your child is about to enter a similar situation, give a preventative prompt, such as "Remember how we talked about things you could say when you want to join a game? You can do those things right now so that you can play jumprope with those kids."
Social Stories and Books
Social stories, books, and even DVDs or television shows can also help children with PDD who are struggling with social situations. A social story describes the situation the child is having trouble with, includes social cues that the child will need to pick up on, and the correct reaction to these social cues. Telling the child a social story about a specific situation can improve the child’s comprehension of what exactly happens in that type of situation, lower your child’s anxiety levels when confronted with that situation, and give your child the proper responses to use in that situation.
Basic picture books or DVDs on the topic can help your child as well. Make sure to ask questions about the characters’ reactions to various situation in the book, such as "What do you think Lola will do now?" "Why do you think Teddy reacted like that?" or "Do you think that was the right way to respond?" Discuss with your child other responses that the character could have had, as well as the probable outcomes of those responses.
The best technique you can use when teaching social skills to PDD boys and girls is to let them imitate other children without PDD. Playdates give them that opportunity, as well as the chance to practice the skills you have been reviewing with them. Here are some tips you can use to make the first few playdates as successful as possible:
- Plan ahead of time, scheduling each activity and sharing the schedule with your child beforehand. This will help your child with PDD feel more confident and secure.
- Put away a few toys that your child will have a hard time sharing (such as a favorite teddy bear, or a new gift) before the playdate.
- Keep the playdate simple. Invite only one other child, stick to activities that your child is familiar with and enjoys, and keep the playdate relatively short – no more than an hour or two at first.
- Anticipate the end of the playdate as being difficult for your child, and plan accordingly. Especially if your child is enjoying himself, he will need some transition time. Tell him beforehand what will happen, and practice it with him if necessary. You can also try promising him a treat or another incentive for after the playdate ends.
- During the playdate, watch for social areas that your child with PDD needs to improve in. After the playdate, help him work on those areas through direct instruction, role playing, and social stories. Try to avoid stepping in in the middle of a playdate unless absolutely necessary.
Teaching Social Skills to Youth, by Tom P. Dowd and Jeff Tierney