Supporting Social Skills in High School

by Care Speech Pathology 
16 May 2022

Teenagers with social skill difficulties may require extra support to make friends, navigate interactions and make sense of the increasingly social world around them.

One-on-one Speech Pathology intervention for adolescents typically involves the explicit teaching of age-appropriate social skills through video instruction, roleplay and real-life generalisation tasks.

To get the most out of your teenager’s social communication intervention, it is important to ensure that these same skills are also being supported in their high school environment.

What social skills typically emerge in high school?

As children move into adolescence, they begin to seek more independence and responsibility. Adolescents are more likely to seek out new experiences and engage in risk-taking behaviour as they start developing a stronger sense of identity and an individual set of values and morals. Increased conflict between family and peers is also more likely.

Although adolescents become better at reading and processing other people’s emotions as they get older, they can sometimes misread facial expressions or show self-consciousness in their body language. They may also find it hard to understand the effects of their behaviour and comments on other people. Over time, older adolescents develop increased abstract thinking and social reasoning skills to prepare them for adulthood.

How do I support social skill development with a whole class?

  1. Establish Clear Routines
    Students who have difficulties with social skills will benefit from clear routines in the classroom to reduce how much they need to read the cues of other students and interpret what is happening around them. Consider using the following strategies in the classroom:

    • Ensure students have easy access to their weekly timetable and encourage them to refer to it regularly.
    • Consider writing a lesson outline on the whiteboard at the start of each class for all students to attend to.
    • Provide individual students with graphic organisers, checklists, subtitles, outlines, etc, that provide clear scaffolding and expectations for written work and assignments.
    • Model the steps or sequences of a process to show students what the finished product should look like, particularly for more complex pieces of work such as essay writing.
    • Give students as much warning as possible before making any changes in routine – this may be verbally, visually or both. Students with social skill difficulties may otherwise struggle to cope with last-minute changes.
  2. Classroom Layout
    Consider your position in the classroom in relation to students who may need extra support. If possible, place those students needing help near the front of the room or towards your desk so that they can easily access support if they need to.
  3. Start each class with a peer-to-peer check-in
    This doesn’t need to be a time-consuming activity. Allocate 5 minutes at the beginning of each lesson for students to turn to the person next to them and check in with how they are feeling. Encourage the use of mature emotional vocabulary wherever possible, such as ‘ecstatic’, ‘confident’, ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘relieved’. It may also be helpful to label your own emotions to detract from the idea that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions. For example, a teacher might model, ‘I am really disappointed today because I made myself a nice lunch but then I forgot it at home’.
  4. Practice role-playing of challenging situations
    Take time to role-play tricky situations that come up in the classroom. This is a great strategy to discuss bullying and other complex social situations and how to handle them.
  5. Set up a space or strategy that each child can use when they are feeling overwhelmed or need to calm down
    It is important that children have an area that they can take a break and regulate themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed or upset. This may be a specific space, such as in a learning support area, or a strategy, such as asking to go for a walk to get a drink.

How do I support social skill development 1:1 or in small groups?

  1. Direct teaching
    Direct teaching is one of the most commonly used forms of social skills training and is as effective form of intervention for adolescents (Lynch & Simpson, 2010). Direct teaching or explicit instruction simply means working with an individual or small group of students to directly target a specific skill or strategy (e.g., “Today we are going to talk about empathy”).
  2. Social Scripts
    Social scripts are ‘scripts’ that a child or adolescent learns to navigate a social situation (e.g., “I can see you’re upset. I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?” or “Hey, how was your weekend? Did you get up to much?”. They are particularly useful in encouraging students to initiate interactions and establish peer relationships. The student will need multiple practise opportunities to use the script during the target activity. Scripts may initially be written down but should ultimately be committed to memory so that they can be used in real-life situations.
  3. Peer Mediated Intervention
    Peer mediated intervention is a treatment approach in which peers directly support another student’s social skill development (Chang & Locke, 2016). Roles played by peers may include modelling appropriate behaviour, implementing prompting procedures and reinforcing target behaviours. One way in which peer modelling can be used is in supporting the development of reciprocal friendships. For example, a student with well-developed social skills may be encouraged to initiate conversations and facilitate inclusion for another student in the class who is still developing these skills.
  4. Support Person
    In high school, where students are less likely to have a close relationship with one particular teacher, it is important to ensure that students have a ‘go-to’ person that they can rely on in times of emotional dysregulation. Where possible, students with social skill difficulties should have a direct line of contact to the school counsellor, year coordinator, homeroom teacher or other adult they trust during school hours. This adult can then facilitate the most appropriate course of action to support the student in times of need.

At Care Speech Pathology, we provide one-on-one support for social skill development as well as education and training for parents, teachers and carers. Contact us today on 1300 086 280 or [email protected] to find out more.

References

Chang, Y. & Locke, J. (2016). A Systematic Review of Peer-Mediated Interventions for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 27, 1-10.

Lynch, S. & Simpson, C. (2010). Social Skills: Laying the Foundation for Success. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 38 (2), 3-12.

Reynhout, G. & Carter, M. (2006). Social Stories for Children with Disabilities. Journal for Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 445-469.

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