“In a world that is ever changing, there is one constant. As human beings, we need to communicate with each other. We need to be around others for many many reasons, including support, learning and most importantly a sense of belonging” (Ostovar, R & DiVittore, K. 2017).
5 things you need to know about Social Skills Coaching is a parent friendly book written by two seasoned authors who specialize in social language. Roya Ostova, PhD is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Processing Disorder and is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Psychiatry. She is an expert in the fields of Autism Spectrum Disorders, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, Social Pragmatic Disorder, Social Skills Coaching and Sensory Processing Disorder. Dr. Krista DiVittore is an Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a clinical psychologist. She works directly with children, adolescents and young adults with neurodevelopmental disorders.
This easy to read guide is an excellent resource for parents, educators and clinicians. The book is intended to help parents learn about social language and the importance of teaching social skills training. Throughout each chapter, the authors include a “need to know” section that can be read quickly and easily by parents. Some questions that will be answered after reading this guide include: What is a social skills coach? Who is a good candidate for social skills coaching? Is social skills coaching a therapeutic service?
I wanted to ask the authors of 5 things to know about Social Skills Coaching, Roya and Krista some questions that would be helpful to parents that have children that are struggling with social skills. This interview might also be helpful to clinicians who are beginning to learn how to incorporate social skills coaching into their practice. Thank you Roya and Krista for your comprehensive responses! I know my readers will find your tips and recommendations very helpful!
It is a known fact that social skills and quality of life are directly related and incredibly intertwined. In our work we have seen that difficulties with social skills can impact a person’s life in so many ways, including their mood, their ability to have a job or go to school, and how they feel about themselves. We also found that socializing with others can be challenging for everybody, not just for individuals with psychiatric disorders or neurodevelopment disorders (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder). In other words, most people likely struggle with some aspect of socialization and would benefit from some level of social skills coaching. Because of this, we wanted this information to be accessible to everybody, including families, clinicians, and an individual, as well as to provide a simple and user-friendly explanation of what social skills coaching is and how it can be beneficial. We were inspired to write this book because we wanted to reach as many people as possible and to try and normalize getting a coach to help with improving one’s social skills, just like it is perfectly acceptable to get a coach to improve athletic , musical, acting or any other skills. We have seen how awareness and knowledge of this service has provided a real sense of hope to our clients and their families as they realize how learning effective social skills can impact their quality of life in a positive and meaningful way.
What are your most helpful tips for parents to get their child connected with a Social Skills coach?
For school-aged children, parents may be able to find helpful resources by connecting with a school counselor, psychologist, or speech and language pathologist, who may be able to guide parents to resources in the community. For young adults who are in college, parents may be able to help their adult child obtain services through the college counseling center or office of disability. They may not provide the specific services but they may know who to refer parents and young adults to in the community. Additionally, local organizations that focus on child and adolescent development may have social skills coaching services. Examples of organizations that could have local chapters are Autism Speaks or the Arc. Your child may not have an Autism Spectrum Disorder; however, these organizations should be aware of available resources that can address social skill development. Parents can also reach out to specific professionals, such as child psychologists, developmental psychologists, and speech and language pathologists, who are familiar with assessing for and teaching social skills. If they do not provide the service themselves, these professionals may be able to refer the parent to another professional who does. Once connected with a social skills coach, we cannot reiterate enough how important parent involvement is. The skills that are learned within the social skills coaching sessions need to be practiced as much as possible in order for the skill to be generalized across settings. “Parents as coaches” is powerful and can be very helpful in supporting their child’s learning.
If your child is not motivated to engage socially with others, where should you start?
There are many reasons why anybody may not be motivated to engage socially, so you have to approach the child in a genuine, safe, and open way to fully understand what the barrier is to social engagement. Through observation, a parent may be able to identify what is socially motivating to a child. Teachers may be able to offer insight into what is socially motivating to the child. Then, parents and teachers may have to shift thinking about what social engagement means, because for the seemingly unmotivated child it is likely not going to start out with a typical back-and-forth conversation. We want to find a way to connect with the child in a way that is meaningful to them. One place to start is by incorporating the child’s interests in interactions, which may require some creativity and patience. The social engagement may be side-by-side play with Legos or video games. Your social engagement may be silent, but you are creating a positive and social connection by just sitting with them and showing interest in what they are interested in. Remember we are shifting our thinking, so socially connecting with somebody does not automatically mean a verbal conversation. Or your child may be willing to show you how they program a game they created on the computer. Again, it is not a back-and-forth verbal conversation, but it is a social interaction. As a parent, you are finding ways to connect with your child in a way that interests them and creating a positive social experience for them, which may lead them to be more willing or motivated to engage in other types of social interactions. A social skills coach will also be able to give parents (and teachers) ideas of how to engage with the child to give him or her opportunities to socialize in a way that makes sense to them.
Is social skills coaching an individual service or a group service?
It can be both. We recognize there are many variables to the decisions that families and individuals have to make when deciding on which would be best, such as finances, availability, and fit. Typically groups are less burdensome in regard to cost. Sometimes groups are more readily available. Other times there may not be a group that is the appropriate age level, developmental level, or peer group. What we often see is that individual sessions may be more beneficial to start with, especially for individuals who are too anxious or unwilling to enter into a group setting. It is important for the individual to have that individualized time to practice in a safe and predictable environment with the social skills coach. One-to-one sessions also can be individualized specifically for the child’s needs and adjust strategies as needed, whereas groups are sometimes less flexible in their ability to address each child’s need. It can be helpful for parents to have conversations with school teachers, counselors, psychologists, and speech and language pathologists familiar with the child to make a decision about which mode of service would best benefit the child and address their needs.
Is social skills coaching reimbursable through insurance?
To our knowledge, social skills coaching is not reimbursable through insurance at this time. We encourage individuals and families to check with their insurance company because coverage may vary or be flexible to include social skills coaching. Other low fee or no fee options may be available to at least increase social support and provide opportunities to practice socializing. Schools may have some services available, such as a lunch bunch or social group, that can provide additional social support for children for free. You can also check with local organizations for social skills groups that may have lower rates or may waive fees.