Here at ASK-All Special Kids, we are all too aware that many children with learning differences and special educational needs often miss out on a rich and rewarding social life as interaction with their peers can be challenging. Some of our children just find it hard to mix in with others and to learn the social skills that are so often taken for granted.
Social skills include knowing how to take turns in a conversation, how to express one’s emotions, how to understand what is appropriate behaviour in a social situation and how to recognise non-verbal communication through facial expressions and tone of voice.
As part of its children’s programmes, ASK-All Special Kids offers a Bilingual Summer Day Camp at Collège du Léman, where social skills are the basis of the daily programme. ASK also runs an after-school Social Skills group at its offices in the Ecumenical Centre, 1 route des Morillons, 1218 Grand-Saconnex. Run by trained professionals, these sessions welcome all children, offering basic and moderate/advanced social skills in a small group of no more than 10 students. The aim is to help children make and keep friends, help them express their emotions appropriately and help them resolve conflicts and handle stressful situations. There is usually a theme for each session, and below are some examples of recent sessions.
2 November – “Being a Good Sport”
We learnt that being a good sport means being a good loser and a good winner, and we brainstormed various ways we could be each. We practised being good sports, which wasn’t always easy, during the games we played. Some of us practised dealing with our anger when the game didn’t go our way, and others practised winning without gloating. We saw that winning one game didn’t mean we’d win the next game (sometimes we need to be a good loser and sometimes a good winner).
9 November – “Manners”
We learnt that we need manners because manners help everyone get along. We learnt when it’s appropriate to say “Please” and when it’s appropriate to say “Thank you.” Sometimes we forget to give these responses in everyday life, so we need to practise them to get them right.
16 November – “Making and Being a Friend”
It can be difficult to make and keep friends, so we learnt ways we could do this. Starting a friendship may involve finding out what you have in common with another person, so we played a game that helped us discover what we had in common with each another. We then played a compliments game to help us see how making someone else feel good can help build friendships. We were reminded that compliments must be positive and true. We considered the characteristics of good friendships and not-so-good friendships and learnt that good friends help us, include us and make decisions with us, whilst not-so-good friends hurt us, exclude us and boss us around. We made stress balls with flour and balloons for when we become frustrated or fidgety and need something to squeeze!
23 November – “Sharing and Compromise”
We worked on two very important social skills: sharing and compromise. Sharing isn’t an easy skill and it takes lots of practice, which is exactly what we did during snack time: we shared some of the snacks we didn’t care for with those who liked them. We talked about the meaning of sharing and compromise and how it makes us and others feel. We talked about the different ways of sharing and about setting up sharing expectations before actually sharing. We also talked about compromise: what it means, how it’s helpful and necessary in friendships, and how it can be really difficult (even for adults!). Sometimes we have to give up something to avoid disagreements and have fun; if we never compromise, we might find ourselves without friends. We put our learning into practice when we had to compromise (sometimes a lot!) in order to agree on a group name, a group mascot, group colours, group food, a group song, and a group lucky number. We were proud of ourselves for working hard at compromising, which wasn’t easy and didn’t always seem fair.
30 November – “Practising what we learnt this term”
We reviewed being a good sport: we talked about the feelings associated with winning and losing and listed ways you can be a good winner as well as a good loser; a common answer was to keep trying and not give up. We were given a laminated pocket reminder (“What to do when I lose a game”) to use at home; it gave us helpful hints about what to think, say and do when losing a game. We played two games in which we had to compete not against each other but against ourselves (sometimes self-competition can help children who struggle with competition in general)! We each had three attempts to beat our own score and were reminded during the game that we were trying to beat our own record; we were not comparing our scores with those of others. We enjoyed trying to “beat our own record” and cheering one another on.
ASK-All Special Kids has the additional resource of a lending library of specialist publications. Books on Social Skills include “The Unwritten Rules of Friendship” by Natalie Madorsky Elman and Eileen Kennedy-Moore; “Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success” by Richard Lavoie; “Revealing the Hidden Social Code” by Marie Howley and Eileen Arnold; “Helping the Child who Doesn’t Fit in” by Stephen Nowicki and Marshall P Duke; and “Social Standards at School” by Judi & Tom Kinney. Parents and professionals alike are welcome to come along and borrow a book free of charge, with only a small deposit which will be returned when the book comes back to ASK.