Making the Shift from “Social Skills” to “Social Competencies”

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What are social competencies for adolescents and young adults?

According to a 2016 study by Cara E. Pugliese and colleagues, real-world executive functional skills related to communication, socialization, and daily living skills are important to adaptive behavior outcomes. The study concluded that it is important to target these adaptive skills and the executive functioning skills that contribute to them in individuals with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), in order to improve outcome. 

So, what does that mean for us therapists that are currently targeting “social skills?” It means, that we have to make a shift from “teaching social skills,” a concept that is thought of as a lesson-based format that needs to be “mastered” into “teaching toward social competencies,” which can be considered a complex and dynamic system of learning. As Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP word it, we need to rephrase this concept and allow ourselves to change our perspective into focusing more on “social learning to increase social competencies.” Here are my 3 lessons that I use to target social understanding, adaptive problem-solving, and social output. 

1. Critical thinking

Critical thinking means to analyze facts in order to form a judgement. Using critical thinking involves looking at situations objectively and making logical and informed decisions about those situations and the outcomes. Specifically, critical thinking tasks can involve looking at a variety of situations and identifying multiple causes, what someone might be thinking, describing a problem, and solving absurdities. One of my favorite ways to work on critical thinking and these specific tasks is through  my critical thinking digital task cards. This resources targets these 4 areas and can be accessed by clicking on the image below. 

2. Perspective-taking

Perspective-taking refers to a person’s ability to consider a situation from a different point of view. It requires a person to put themselves in another’s position in order to imagine what they might feel, what they might think, and how they might act in that particular situation. We can work on these skills with our students and clients by having them identify what different hypothetical characters might think, feel, and do in a variety of situations. My multiple character perspectives digital task cards targets 3 different character’s perspectives in a variety of situations. This resource can be accessed by clicking on the image below. 

Another resource I use to target perspective-taking is my perspective-taking and corresponding emotions digital task cards. This can be accessed by clicking on the image below. 

3. Problem-solve for more smooth social communication

By all means, we can all use more practice in being exposed to a variety of hypothetical problems and ways that we can verbalize appropriate solutions to these challenging problems that we may face throughout our day. As a therapist, we can help our students and clients prepare for specific problems they may encounter at home, in the community, or at school by exposing them to these hypothetical problems, and giving them tools to be successful in solving these specific situations at home, at school, and in the community. Undeniably, there are SO many great activities designed to work on problem-solving, but I love presenting these to my students and older clients with real-life images and leveled tasks that include a multiple-choice format and an open response text box. Click on the image below to check out my problem solving bundle. 

Remember, we have to start shifting our thinking from teaching “social skills” into “teaching toward social competencies.” What else would you add to this list? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.  

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