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Social Skills Training

Social skills training (SST) is used to improve social skills in children, adolescents and young adults who have social-communication difficulties. These may be caused by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) or other psychiatric conditions or learning disabilities associated with social problems. 

SST can be learned at any age, guided by teachers, therapists or other professionals and delivered either individually or in a group format, usually once or twice a week. It is most effective when used as one component of a combined treatment program—such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or medicationespecially for those with severe SAD, both for their social skills and their anxiety about social situations. In fact, SST is effective in improving social skills for those with SAD regardless of the social issue.

Techniques used in SST

Assessment of an individual’s specific skill deficits and impairments is the first step—to know which social interactions are most challenging or in need of improvement. The goal is to guide the individual to determine the best targets for social skills training.

Behavioral rehearsal or role play gradually introduces new skills to practice during therapy in simulated situations, changing one area at a time to ensure the individual does not get overwhelmed.

Corrective feedback reinforces desired behaviors by providing examples and questions-and-answers or other feedback.

Instruction describes a particular skill, explains how to carry it out and models both verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Complex behaviors like how to carry on a conversation may be broken down into smaller pieces, such as introducing oneself, making small talk and ending a conversation. 

Positive reinforcement rewards improvements in social skills. Therapists may respond to individuals’ utterances, interactions and behaviors to encourage the desired social skills (such as rewarding positive play). 

Weekly homework assignments provide the chance to practice new social skills outside of therapy.

Building blocks of social interaction

Social skills are the building blocks of social interaction and are areas for development: 

Being assertive helps a person relate to others, while balancing everyone’s needs. Those who defer to others may be uncomfortable with assertiveness, but over time it helps reduce their anxiety and make everyone else feel more comfortable.

Communicating non-verbally plays a significant role in communication. People with SAD or ASD may have “closed” body language that signals being unapproachable or unfriendly. It is possible to work on having more open and friendly nonverbal behaviors.

Communicating verbally is a foundational skill that may be difficult for persons with ASD or SAD—they may not know what to say or how to talk about themselves. Learning to better navigate conversations may help to build and maintain relationships.

Making introductions is a way of helping people feel comfortable. It is a useful social skill to know how to confidently make introductions or be introduced.

Practicing active listening involves paying attention, asking questions and reflecting on what someone says, so the other person feels heard. When coping with SAD, practicing active listening may actually help focus more on others and less on one’s own internal anxiety. 

Overcoming telephone phobia can be difficult for those with SAD, but there are tips and tricks, including exposure therapy, to help overcome a fear of answering or making phone calls.

Accepting and giving compliments gracefully are important social skills to learn. Compliments are a way of initiating and deepening relationships, good conversation starters and a way to show appreciation for others.

Learn more about Behavior Therapies offered at CFI…



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