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April 22, 2012 – WASHINGTON, IL – Skill Sprout LLC, a new and expanding Washington-based business that offers hope and a plan for families that deal daily with the challenges of autism, couldn’t have existed five years ago. It’s winning the fight to exist today.
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Our Social Skills Groups were developed on the theory that children learn best by watching a skill being modeled, rather than simply being told how to perform it. We can probably all relate to this. Think back to the first day at a new job, learning a  hobby and our own school days. Generally we learned the necessary skills by watching others model those skills. We can certainly learn a new skill by listening to someone explain how to do it. However, it seems to “stick” better when we see someone demonstrate it for us. In part, this is because our sensory systems typically process information better when it comes in multiple forms. If we simply hear someone tell us how to perform a task, our sensory systems have to work a little harder to process the information because most of us then assign a visual representation to the auditory input. When the information comes to us through both the visual and auditory systems, our brain is able to process and retain the information more efficiently and effectively.

This process is especially important for our children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism often creates sensory processing deficits. Our social skills groups aim to teach children new skills by providing the information in ways that enhance their ability to process and retain it. In addition to hearing the group leader talk about new skills and how to perform them, a child is watching a peer model the skills throughout the session. For example, if a child is struggling to maintain two-way conversations, not only will the child be taught about conversation topics and how to use follow up questions, but the child will be interacting with a peer the entire session that has been trained on how to model those very skills. These interactions between the target student and a peer help to create genuine learning opportunities in a natural way. We thorough enjoy watching our students in the social skills program learn and practice social skills, develop confidence in their abilities and have fun interacting with peers!

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Video Self Modeling (VSM) is an intervention being introduced with our students in the Social Skills program. Research has proven VSM to be an effective intervention for children with autism. The goal of VSM is to capture a child displaying a skill correctly and receiving praise. The child then views the videos in preparation for completing the tasks or skills independently. These videos can be created and used in many different ways. Collaboration with the family to determine the child’s needs is essential when planning to create a video.

Video Self Modeling is based on the knowledge that children learn best from models most like themselves. Watching another child of the same age and gender modeling a skill is an effective intervention. A child watching themselves engage in a targeted behavior can be more effective. Video Self Modeling is also built upon a child’s need to be successful. A child watching him- or herself complete a task successfully and receive praise can build self-confidence and increase the desire to try new things!

To create the video, raw footage is collected, and often edited, to display the targeted skills or tasks. There are two ways to do this. The first method is intended to capture a skill that the child can typically demonstrate independently, but might not do so consistently or fluently. The child is recorded completing the task or skill on his or her own. The videos are then used to build self-assurance in the skill and increase fluency or consistency. This method is called Positive Self Review. The child is reviewing something positive that they can do.

The second method of creating a video is intended to display a skill that the child cannot yet demonstrate independently. The child is recorded completing the task or skill with prompting. Typically, a familiar adult (parent or therapist) provides verbal prompting, or step-by-step instructions, on how to complete the task or skill. Then, the verbal prompts are edited out and the final product is a video of the child completing the task independently. This is called Video Feed Forward.

Social Skills staff are excited to be using this research-based intervention with our clients and families!

For more information on Video Self Modeling, please see the following resources:

A power point on VSM by the Siskin Children’s Institute: http://www.siskin.org/downloads/vsm_scipresentation.pdf

An article by Dr. Tom Buggey and others on VSM and autism: http://foa.sagepub.com/content/26/1/25

~ Josey Jones, MSW


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Developing Friendships

You knew how to comfort your daughter when she had a disagreement with her best friend in second grade and she thought they would never talk again, but it is a far more daunting task to explain to your 13-year-old how to make a friend, especially if he feels he has never had one.

For many of our kids, there can be a large disconnect between having “friends” (other kids that they talk to) at home and having “friends” (other kids that they talk to) at school. It is so important for our kids to develop real friendships especially as they get older. It is also tremendously important to us as parents to see them develop friendships. However, because of the differences in the way that we grew up relating to our peers and the way our children with autism spectrum disorders grow up relating to their peers, it can be very difficult to know how to encourage and support friendship growth for our children.

Here are several steps that you can take to help support your child in developing friendships.

  1. Talk about a “friendship scale” with your child. You can make 3-5 different levels of friendship and discuss with your child what each of those levels mean, how you know that you are at that level of friendship, and what the benefits and responsibilities of each level of friendship are. This can help make “friendship” more concrete and understandable for your child. An example of 5 levels would be: acquaintances, friends, good friends, close friends, best friend/s.
  2. Help your child identify a few other children that he/she wants to work on building a relationship with. You may need to utilize support groups or contacts within your child’s class to find children who would likely be good friends for your child. Talk about things that can help make a good friendship such as similar interests and similar ages. You can help your child come up with questions to ask new children he/she meets to help decide if they might be a “good friend.”
  3. Help your child identify two or three ways each week that he/she can work on improving his/her relationship with the child he/she wants to build a relationship with. You can help your child come up with ideas such as: Call Alex to talk about what he did this weekend;  tell Andrew about my new video game; invite Emily over to play; sit next to Jenna at lunch.
  4. Evaluate each week with your child and if possible with the other child, where they feel like they are on the “friendship” scale and how they can continue to build or maintain their friendships.

These steps can help your child see and feel progress in making friends. Certainly children at different levels will need more or less support, but having a plan of action can make the task of supporting friendships easier.

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Last post we focused on teaching imitation skills. Now it’s time to assess and teach interactive play skills. Does your child independently engage in turn taking with the absence of problem behaviors? Is your child attending to the person whose turn it is? Is your child a “good sport?” If you answered no to any of these questions, and your child is ready, it may be time to teach these skills.

Turn taking is an important skill to have if your child is going to be successful when playing with other peers. There are two different types of turn taking that your child may need programming to address. These include taking turns during a game and with a toy. Some of our students have a difficult time letting others play with their toys. This can result in difficult behaviors if they have not learned to share and deal with another child getting a turn. You might start teaching this skill in a 1:1 setting with a preferred toy. Starting with their “favorite” toy might not be the best idea. Let the learner have the toy and say “your turn,” after a minute or two take the toy and say “my turn.” Start with short increments of time and systematically increase.  It is also important to work with your child on taking turns during a game. Start with a simple game that your learner has the skills to complete. Once they are taking turns independently and playing the game for about 10 minutes, it’s time to make sure they are attending to the other individual playing with them. If they are not attending implement programming for this skill. This may be a more difficult skill that requires other prerequisite skills. At this point if the learner is not attending you may want to brainstorm with your consultant about additional programming.

Consider using visuals when teaching turn taking.

Other Strategies to Consider:

  1. Token system
  2. Video Modeling
  3. Role Playing

Finally, is the learner a “good sport” when playing a game? Some of our learners have a difficult time if they lose a game or it does not go as they planned. It is not practical for them to win all of the time. Once they can take turns and play the game now it is time to make sure they can “lose well.” One great way to do this is reinforce your child for congratulating the winner of the game. If you would like to get these programs in place talk with your consultant about where to start and what will work best for your child.


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Many of the children we work with have difficulties with social skills. Often they do not have the prerequisite skills to engage in social behavior. Without these skills it is more difficult to teach higher level social skills. Let’s look at those precursor skills are and how to start teaching them.

Imitation is a critical skill for the learner when talking about social skills. Everyone is able to learn more from their environment when they can imitate. Even adults imitate other individuals in a new environment. For example, if you go to a new store you might imitate getting in line in the same place that everyone else is getting in line. You wouldn’t just walk right up to the cashier or start your own line. Obviously, there are many ways that we could figure out how and where to get in line but imitating others is an  easy way of learning from our environment. Imitating someone requires that the individual attend to what someone else is doing and then copy that person. If our students can walk into a play situation and imitate the behaviors of other peers they will be more successful in those situations. There are different types of imitation skills that should be put into the learners programming.

  1. Gross Motor
  2. Fine Motor
  3. Oral Motor
  4. Imitation with Objects

When teaching these skills start off with one-step imitation in a one-to-one setting. Use a discrete trial type format. Monitor the progress on each imitation skill and add new skills accordingly. Once there is a repertoire of imitation skills slowly build the number of steps to two steps, three steps and so on.

Additionally, independent play skills are an important skill to start working on. Teach your child to engage appropriately with age appropriate games and toys. Increase the amount of time the child engages in various types of play activities. It is important to develop reinforcement contingencies for engaging in play activities. This will help to make play skills a conditioned reinforcer. If you would like to get these programs in place talk with your consultant about where to start and what will work best for your child.

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