Saturday, November 1, 2014

How social skills help children with special needs and family caregivers

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One of the key factors for success in life for children with disabilities is having good social skills.  This can affect everything from early childhood to school to adult life. 

What are Social Skills?

          Social Skills are how children interact and communicate with those around them.  This includes their peers as well as adults.  Social skills affect how well children get along at home and school.  They have implications for success in academic life, community living, and employment in adulthood.  In fact, social skills are the largest barrier for successful employment for young adults with disabilities.

          One tool for success in helping children with social challenges is the use of Social Stories.  The stories explain what will happen and prepare the child for the event.  The stories are used repeatedly so that the child knows what to expect.  This allows students to avoid feeling overwhelmed and acting out, so they are more successful.  Sometimes a “social autopsy” will be done with the student after an event that didn’t go well to discuss what went wrong and how to improve next time. 

School Age

          Many students, especially those with developmental disabilities, benefit from Social Skills instruction.  In some cases, a psychologist can work one-to-one with a student until they are ready to work in a group, where it really counts.  Some parents choose to do this privately through their health insurance.  However, Social Skills is a “related service” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA.)  This means that it can be put into a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and offered during the school day.  Just like other related services such as speech, physical, or occupational therapy, Social Skills instruction should be listed with duration (how many minutes) and frequency (how often each week) and as an individual or group

activity.  Support for developing and enhancing social skills can also be provided in before- and after-school and summer programs if needed. 

Transition to Adult Life

          It is essential that families start early with Social Skills and then enhance these skills during transition.  There are opportunities in school called Structured Learning Experiences or Community Based Instruction.  These offer students an opportunity to practice employment and social skills in a structured environment with support.  The most important component is that this takes place in the community.  Students who participate in these programs are more likely to be successful and independent, which is a plus for families who may no longer have to be caregivers through the lifespan.  Successful transition to adult life will maximize the potential of the individual with special needs so that they can live independently to the best of their ability.


Carol Gray’s Social Stories

Social Skill Autopsies: A Strategy to Promote and Develop Social Competencies

Parent Center Hub:  Social Skills and Academic Achievement

U.S. Department of Education:  Guide to the Individualized Education Program (see section on “additional guidance” which refers to social skills and the law)

Wrightslaw:  Is the school required to provide social skills training?

Helpful Contacts:

Parent Training and Information Centers
PTIs help families with special education, including getting social skills on IEPs.  PTIs can be found at

Centers for Independent Living
CILs maximize skills needed for independent living, including social skills and self-advocacy.   CILs are found at

Remain Hopeful,


Lauren Agoratus is a parent/advocate who works for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and serves as the NJ Coordinator for Family Voices (, a national network that works to “keep families at the center of children’s healthcare” at or FB  She also serves as NJ representative supporting caregivers across the lifespan for the Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) in a volunteer capacity at or FB


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