December Social Skills Blog: Tis the Season to be Social
By Kate Helbig
It’s the most wonderful time of the year and it is finally here! We all survived the copious amounts of food, pie, and football on Thanksgiving. Now we are in full preparation (or panic if you have procrastinated as long as I have) for the upcoming holiday extravaganzas. This blog edition will be somewhat of a continuation of the previous post in that it will review and expand upon holiday related social skills.
To begin our discussion about social skills, we will start with one of the most prominent part of winter holidays, gift exchanges. Gift exchanges, though wonderful and fun, can be stressful leading up to the actual event, and take a lot of planning and thought. Now imagine someone with ASD, who already have a social skill deficit, therefore making the process that much more difficult. Prior to the event, it would likely be beneficial to sit down with your student and provide them a rationale of why it is important to give during the holiday season and how it makes others feel. It also may be beneficial to have your child brainstorm a list of items that others like and that could be potential gifts. If your child or student is having difficulty generating their own ideas, you can provide them with various exemplars and help steer them in the right direction by having them list things that they would like as a gift. Then have the child extend and generalize this concept to members in their family like their mom, dad, siblings, etc. Though this seems like a simple task, it can be difficult for a child with ASD to generate their own ideas regarding other peoples’ preferences, thus it is important to provide praise for the child participating and developing their own ideas.
Now, for the actual event itself, the social interaction of the gift exchange! I will provide a general task analysis of discrete steps on receiving gifts and then highlight some additional points that will be helpful during this interaction.
1. Open the present
2. Look at the person (orient head and shoulders towards person)
3. Make eye contact (maintain for at least three seconds)
4. Say thank you
Like every other skill, train and practice this interaction prior to the actual gift exchange event. Implement behavioral skills training and provide some type of reinforcer contingent upon the child’s accurate demonstration of skill. Practice this skill until you see mastery (100% accuracy) of the skill.
Potential sticky situations:
So there is the inevitable situation your child or student may not like (or even hate) the gift that they were given. To account for this during skills training, point out to the child that the only appropriate response is to thank the person for giving them a gift. Specifically target this by presenting something the child does not prefer (i.e. some type of food item) as the gift and have them practice responding until they demonstrate mastery.
This also goes back to the white lie portion of last month’s blog posting. Explain to the child or student that it is important to always say thank you even if they did not like the gift. This is because the person that gave the gift went out of their way and spent time, money, or both on trying to do something nice for them, and these efforts should be acknowledged. Also explain that if they were to say something along the lines of ‘I don’t like this present’, it can be considered rude or make someone else feel sad or mad. Additionally, explain that if they treat someone rudely, it is less likely that the person that gave the gift will want to do something nice or get a gift for your child or student in the future. You can explain that in general, it is just good manners and social skills to always thank people that do or give something to you.
Another lesson that is related to gift exchanges (though not required) but may be a good idea to teach, is writing thank you notes. Though this is not a physical social interaction, it is still within the social skill domain, as it is a written form of communication. Explain that it is just like being the skill of verbally saying thank you but you are writing it in a few sentences instead. Explain the appropriate times to write a thank you note and why people like receiving thank you notes.
Lastly, holiday family gatherings are a great opportunity for your child to practice all of the previously discussed social skills, such as maintaining a conversation, responding to questions, initiating a conversation, and of course gift giving. During these events, though they may be hectic, make sure to provide praise for your child engaging in any accurate demonstration of these various or skills or any appropriate social interaction in general.
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and take the time to relax and enjoy it with your friends and families! Happy holidays!