Rapid Automatic Naming—
The fast talker wins when it comes to readingcanstockphoto21007974 (photo by Mellun)

Brandy is in the second grade and she has finally learned to read! This is good news to her family who worried because at first she had a very hard time sounding out words. The only area that she struggles in is that she still reads so slowly. Everyone says that if she just keeps reading, she will get faster, and her fluency will improve.

Research is proving that theory is not quite right.

Although good phonological processing or awareness skills are very important skills in reading well, there are other factors that influence speed and fluency. Good phonological processing means that a child understands that the symbol or letter on paper has a sound and when those letters go together, it makes a word. M-A-D when sounded out is a word. They also learn to manipulate words, ‘Mad’ changes by putting a ‘B’ at the beginning or a ‘T’ at the end. Brandy now has these good phonological processing skills.

The skill that affects the speed at which a person reads is relatively new in the field of reading research. This skill is often described as Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN), which is a person’s ability to translate visual information into a phonological code quickly and easily. What researchers found (Wolf and Bowers, 2000) was that, just as some children are taller than their peers or can run faster than their peers, some children are also much faster at identifying visual information than their peers.

They related the study to this: If you asked a group of children to run around the block, you would expect some children to finish faster than others. Likewise, if you were to ask a group of children to identify ten pictures of common objects as fast as they could, you would find that some children are able to identify those ten objects very quickly while others take a little more time. What was interesting was that those children who were a little slower to name pictures of objects, also tended to be slower in identifying letters of the alphabet or printed words from a list

Lovett, Steinbach, and Frijters, (2000) performed research that showed that in one second of reading, a fast skilled reader is able to recognize and process about five words in running text. That translates into about 300 words read per minute. However a slow reader who is still skilled at reading, may only read 230 words per minute — about 3/4ths of the speed of their faster peers.

We can ask ourselves if this matters.

It does as a child is trying to develop his reading skills. Children who naturally process visual information quickly and easily often have an easier time learning to read than their peers who tend to process visual information more slowly. And this only stands to reason that children who process visual information more rapidly tend to get more out of the time they spend reading than their slower processing peers. They like it because the words create pictures faster, the story moves along like a story should.
A decade ago The National Reading Panel established five areas of effective classroom reading instruction: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and comprehension. Because of this list, schools have focused on children who have difficulty processing phonological information and trouble with the phonemes in speech. Schools now teach children to develop phoneme awareness so they can develop proficient decoding skills. Unfortunately, less is known about Rapid Automatic Naming. It is not as easy to identify at a young age, and even when identified, improving RAN and visual processing speed is considerably more difficult than helping children develop phoneme awareness.

Slow Rapid Naming ability also can be seen in word retrieval situations. This affects academic word recall of new knowledge, creates a slower ability to think of answers, and causes problems not only in reading, but also in generating written assignments.

If you ask a ten year old to name as many animals as he can in twenty seconds, and he says, “Lion, cat, bear, ah, ah, lion”, that is a very poor word-finding ability. I find that children should be able to name one item every two seconds (faster than that is better, of course). So a ten year old should be able to call out the names of ten different animals, foods, or sports when asked. So often when we test our slow readers at our center, they also have very slow speeds at generating the names of category items or have problems with quickly naming colors or letters shown on a card.
What to do?

Practice this rapid naming skill using common objects, colors and letters and numbers. Write out the alphabet in random order, in inch high letters on a page, repeating the letters twice somewhere in the series. “A, F, K, T, M, A, …..” Have your child name the 52 letters as fast as they can and time them. If they make a mistake while naming, have them say it again before advancing to the next letter. Try to improve on the speed of naming for each trial. Have several random lists of single digit numbers, colored circles, and common pictures.
Practice this skill without pictures. Tell your child that within a minute’s time, you want them to name as many things that they can think of in a category. The categories can be: animals, animals in the ocean, things at the farm, wild animals, colors, foods, fruits, jobs, vehicles, things to do on vacation, things that taste good, places to eat, furniture, terrible jobs, jobs that require a uniform, things to clean with, (Although children never get many items in that category!), fun jobs, pets, or clothing.

When you increase your child’s rapid automatic naming ability, you increase his ability to see letters faster, to quickly process them as words, and you watch his reading fluency increase!

Does Your Child Have Good Core Strength?

Many physical workout programs place a great deal of emphasis on “strengthening your core” or strengthening the muscles located at the center of your body. This isn’t a whole lot different from the Common Core method of education. Utah has had its own core standards that stretch the state, but now we have joined the National Standards. The National Common Core is a hot topic, with 47 states having adopted the Common Core Standards (CCS) as of July 2013.

We have been particularly interested in CCS because we work to help our students realize grade-level accomplishments. It took only a minute to get online and look up the CSS of Utah, however, the documents themselves would take about half an hour to print. Stacked on top of each other, the CCS would be about as thick as a phone book! But the basics are this: Each grade, starting with kindergarten and going through high school, set benchmarks for math and language arts that should be met by the time the student completes each grade. If not, the student may not pass and move up to the next grade level. Math and language arts are emphasized because these are skills that are used in life outside of formal schooling, and they provide a good foundation for success in life after high school.

These new standards come with high expectations for all, so it’s important that parents are aware of where their child should be. We have outlined just a few of the Kindergarten and First Grade expectations.

 

Kindergarten Math Benchmarks

  • Count to 100 by ones and by tens.
  • Count forward beginning from a given number within the known sequence.
  • Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 1-20.
  • Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object.
  • Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has “more of” or “less of” the attribute, like taller/shorter.
  • Classify objects into given categories; count the number of objects in each category and sort the categories by count.
  • Add and subtract small numbers.
  • Recognize and name 10 shapes.

Kindergarten Language Arts Benchmarks

  • Writing the letters and knowing all of the letter sounds.
  • Reading and spelling 100 sight words.
  • Recognize and produce rhyming words.
  • Count, pronounce, blend, and segment syllables in spoken words.
  • Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme words.
  • Add or substitute individual sounds (phonemes) in simple, one-syllable words to make new words.

First Grade Math Benchmarks

  • Add within 100, including adding a two-digit number and a one-digit number.
  • Understand that in adding two-digit numbers, one adds tens and tens, ones and ones; and sometimes it is necessary to compose a ten.
  • Given a two-digit number, mentally find 10 more or 10 less than the number, without having to count; explain the reasoning used.
  • Subtract multiples of 10 in the range 10-90 from the multiples of 10 in the range 10-90.
  • Understanding word problems that involve adding and subtracting.

First Grade Language Arts Benchmarks

  • Recognize the distinguishing features of a sentence (e.g., first word, capitalization, ending punctuation).
  • Use phonic skills to read and write unfamiliar words.
  • Identify the main idea and recall details in a story.
  • Write about a topic with a good opening and closing thought.
  • Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
  • Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding

If you suspect your child may not be up to par with these standards, it may be time to put a “workout plan” in place in order to get your child into great Core shape!

Skills We Need Before We Read!

Unfortunately children don’t begin reading by instantly decoding sounds and acquiring sight vocabulary. They move through predictable phases of recognizing letters, recalling their sounds, and then understanding that when the sounds are blended together, these are words. Words carry meaning and when combined into sentences, a story is built.

There are other areas that silently play into being a good reader – visual processing skills that we take for granted because they just seem to happen for most of us. There are many visual processing skills that affect more than just reading.

 

Visual discrimination uses the sense of sight to notice and compare the features of different items to distinguish one item from another. While reading, we do this with letters and then words in a sentence. Children with poor visual discrimination have a hard time seeing the difference between two similar letters, shapes or objects. This affects the speed to learn new words and spelling skills.

Visual processing speed is the ability to recognize numbers, letters and words quickly, an important factor in good reading fluency. Research shows that children with good visual processing speeds are faster readers that children with slow processing speeds.

Visual sequential memory is the ability to determine or remember the order of symbols, words, or objects. This skill is particularly important for spelling. A child who struggles with visual sequencing may leave out, add or switch around letters within words. Recognizing and remembering patterns may also prove difficult.

Visual memory means that students must be able to look at a word, form an image of that word in their minds, and be able to recall the appearance of the word later. Once the word is erased or out of sight, students with good visual memory will recognize that same word later in their readers or other texts and will be able to recall the appearance of the word to spell it.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a complex task that seems to be taken for granted by skilled readers. When we take a close look at comprehension, we find that it involves many important skills, so when someone says, “Jimmy is really struggling with reading comprehension,” that’s like saying “my car is having engine trouble.” Knowing which part of the ‘engine’ is crucial to improvement.

Good reading comprehension is the phrase used when many skills are working together to form a big picture of the passage. The skills of inferring, predicting, vocabulary, comparing, problem solving, summarizing, and sequencing, fall underneath the big umbrella of comprehension. For example, I had a recent experience with one of our students while reading a story about a birthday party for a young girl. She had invited many of her friends over and they were just about to sing and eat cake. There had been no mention of her age in the story thus far, then the writer included the important detail. The story reads, “Jamie closed her eyes and made a wish, then blew out all 8 candles on her cake at one!” At the conclusion of the story, I asked the student how old the birthday girl was, but he couldn’t tell me. Then I asked the student how many candles were on the cake, and he supplied me with the correct answer, but could not connect the candles with the young girl’s age. This points to the skill of inferring, which is very important for readers beyond the 2nd grade. Note that the student’s memory and attention to detail was strong, but the skill of inferring was weak, and therefore caused poor comprehension skills. After practicing this skill, the student was able to improve and increase his comprehension skills.

Thankfully, proper assessments and testing can reveal which skill or skills need extra help, and with good tutoring and frequent practice, any child can improve their comprehension skills. Let’s start building those big pictures!

Proof that U CAN LEARN provides results!

One of our favorite things to do is measure student’s progress, although it makes us a bit uncomfortable. Our pre- and post-academic (standardized) testing is ready to showcase for the students who are attending our learning center, some for as little as four months. What we have learned is that consistent attendance of two times a week, combined with a good attitude, can change a student’s life.

Your student’s school can only do so much, the teacher’s attention is split thirty ways. Studies show that a child gets an equivalent of 3 hours of school day instruction in just one hour of one-on-one tutoring. Now wonder we can make a difference.

How does your child’s speech and language development stack up?

The Developing Mind of a Child – How is your child doing?

A child’s performance in language usage, motor ability and cognitive capability explodes between ages two years to six years. Although the child continues to grow and learn after this age, there will never be a more dramatic change again in his development that can match the magnitude or speed of learning that takes place during these four years.

But these rapid changes are what make younger children “environmental sponges,” soaking in every detail of their world and swelling with new experiences that define who they are and who they will become. By understanding what skills develop an when they come into being, you as a parent can incorporate appropriate themes, ideas and stories into your everyday activities with you children.

 

Ages two years to three years old

Language Development

The child has become and observer of their external world. They begin to use language as a way of talking about real happenings. They speak using three-to-four-word combinations in their speech but they understand much longer sentences. They can judge the difference between polite voice and not polite voice and begin to role play others around them, like pretending to be the mommy. They sing simple songs and nursery rhymes, understand funny actions and phrases, enjoy listening to a short story and know concepts of basic categorization, such as ‘animals,’ foods’ or ‘toys.’

They can answer simple questions that begin with ‘who, where, what, and why.’

Vocabulary

They comprehend 500 words by two and half years and use about 200 intelligible words. This increases to understanding 900 words by three years and to using 500 words.

 

Age three years through four years old

Language Development

They begin to use language as a way of talking about real happenings. They speak using 4-5 words in sentences with more complex syntax. They understand comparison words like, ‘bigger, longer, and colder’. They like to complete sentences such as, “For breakfast I eat ______.” They can answer Who, Why, Where, and What questions, and they begin asking their own using mainly, “What and Who”.

Vocabulary

They comprehend up to 1500-2000 words by age four and use 1000-1500 to express themselves.

 

Ages four to five years old

Language Development

The child has become a more active participant in their external world by engaging in longer conversations. They continue to use language when talking about the happenings of their day but they use descriptive words and details now. They speak using sentences with a length of twelve to thirteen syllables combined. They relate fanciful stories to others and play more involved roles, like pretending to be a doctor or dentist or fireman. When they tell stories they mix real events with unreal happenings. Humor develops further and they learn to tease others in a non-cruel way, such as hiding an object behind their back and saying, “It’s lost.” They enjoy listening to longer stories with illustrations and can discuss they story. Their ability to categorize has increased to understand more involved categories such as “fruit, vegetables, breakfast foods, or things that go.” They can answer “How much?”, “What if?”, “How Far?”, and “How long?” questions.

Vocabulary

They comprehend 2500 words by four and a half years old and use about 1500-2000 intelligible words in their spoken vocabulary. This number increases to understanding 2800 words by age five and speaking 2200.

 

Ages five to six years old

Language Development

At this age no baby talk is present, though they still love to pretend to be babies. They speak using sentences with a length of thirteen to fifteen syllables. They can use compound sentences with more than one main clause. They can name items by two classifications characteristics, for example, “What is red and we eat it?” They can complete basic analogies, “A cat is a pet, a cow is a _____?” They enjoy word play and silly sentences or funny stories. They like making up words and have fun with rhyming words. They can sing whole songs by memorization. They can state why objects are the same or different and can play games like, “I spy” or other describing games. Their speech should be 90% intelligible with only a few sounds that are difficult to pronounce, like /r/, /th/ and /l/. They can tell events of past and future experiences in sequential order. They can explain why one object does not fit with four others and put four pictures in proper sequence.

Vocabulary

They comprehend 13,000 words by age six and use about 6000-7000 words in their spoken vocabulary. Their speech is almost adult-like in structure and semantics of the words and grammar they use.

 

Suggestions to improve a child’s speech and language skills:

Talk with your child frequently

Read a variety of books; read often and talk with your child about the story

Help your child focus on sound patterns of words such as those found in rhyming games

Have your child retell stories and talk about events of the day

Talk with your child during daily activities; give directions for your child to follow (e.g. making cookies)

Talk about how things are alike and different

Give your child reasons and opportunities to write

Continue to encourage reading; find reading material that is of interest to your child

Encourage your child to form opinions about what he or she hears or reads and relate what is read to experiences

Help your child make connections between what is read and heard at school, at home, and in other daily activities

504 or IEP? What’s the difference and does my child need one?

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canstockphoto14989010

A bit of history first:

Prior to 1973, children with special needs were usually all treated the same way and were literally “housed” at one end of a school building with little integration into activities with their same-age peers. Less was expected of this group of kids. Then the Section 504 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed, requiring any school receiving federal monies to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to each individual with a disability, regardless of the nature of the disability.

Then in 1990, Congress passed The American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which encompassed the previous 504 recommendations and added the IEP process to education.

The main points of ADA are:

  • Equal opportunity of a qualified student with a disability to benefit from educational services.
  • That the disabled student be educated with his/her peers in a regular classroom with the maximum time extent possible.
  • Equal access to academic services.
  • These services are offered free.
  • Equal access to nonacademic settings, such as extracurricular activities, meals, recess and PE.

How does ADA define a disability:

  1. Any person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities, or
  2. An individual who has a record of those impairments.

Major life activities can include: (but are not limited to) performing manual tasks, seeing hearing, speaking, eating, walking, standing, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, and thinking.

Physical impairment can include: (but are not limited to) disfigurement, loss of limb, immune system, bladder or bowel, neurological, skin or respiratory problems.

Mental impairment can include: intellectual disability, mental illness or specific learning disorders like reading, writing, communication or academic failure.

 

The difference between an IEP and a 504 accommodation –

What is an IEP?

  1. An IEP modifies the learning program to allow the child to learn through special services. It does not mean the child is doing grade-level work the same as his/her peers.
  2. IDEA requires public schools to develop an IEP for every student with a disability who is found to meet the federal and state requirements for special education. The IEP must be designed to provide an educational program to a child with a disability and to provide written documents that describe that educational program.
  3. Students must be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability (ies), including accepting outside testing. Other considerations are access to the general curriculum, considering how the disability affects the student’s learning, developing goals and objectives that make the biggest difference for the student, and ultimately choosing a placement in the least restrictive environment.

 

What is Section 504?

  1. Unlike the IEP, 504 is an accommodation program, a way to level the playing field for children who remain in the regular classroom. It is not meant to reduce the learning expectations of the child, but it allows for special considerations in order for the child to learn equally as well using their learning style.
  2. A student is eligible for accommodations under Section 504 if the student has mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of a students’s major life activities that impacts education.
  3. Many students eligible for Section 504 accommodations have special health care needs; some could include: HIV, Tourette syndrome, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), heart malfunctions, communicable diseases, urinary conditions, blood disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, school phobia, respiratory conditions such as asthma, epilepsy, cancer, birth defects, tuberculosis, diabetes, and food allergies.
  4. Some children who do not qualify for special education may be eligible for services under Section 504, developed by a team that includes the parents and can provide the student with accommodations or services that are needed.
  5. It must be emphasized that Section 504 falls under the management responsibility of the general education program. The school staff and parents need to work in collaboration to help guarantee that the student is getting a fair chance at learning or being involved. There are hundreds of accommodations available. The school counselor or the state education website governing your state should have these listed out.

 

Things to know:

IEP’s and 504 accommodations are legally binding, written documents that outline the special education program, services and related accommodations based on the child’s disability.

Parent and student participation in decision making: IDEA requires that parents must be given the opportunity to play a central role in the planning and decision making regarding their child’s education. Parents must have the opportunity to participate in the meetings regarding identification, evaluation, educational placement and the provision of FAPE to the student. Student participation is strongly encouraged, particularly when addressing transition planning.

For additional information, check out this practical and clearly organized infographic for the IEP process The National Center for Learning Disabilities has put together. Use the tool as a “road map” to your child or student’s education.

Social Skills – Part 2

canstockphoto7074855Social Skills 101: Helping your child with more complex situations

In my last article I outlined the most basic skills needed to communicate effectively, which were ‘picking up’ on non-verbal cues like noticing others facial expressions, feelings and make eye contact. Although these skills are important whenever communicating, they aren’t enough to help the child who can’t make or keep friends.

Children learn at an early age that in order to get someone to like you or play with you, they should do a few things. A child can show interest in what another child is doing or he/she could share a positive thought about the activity. Asking questions gets the potential friend talking and the child can demonstrate that he/she is fund and interesting. Most children without good social approaches find other ways to engage. They get bossy or pushy, demand time from the potential friend and are either uninterested in the new child’s hobby or overly intent and too personal.

Most of us never think about the layers of communication and meaning in the conversations or interactions. Children with Asperger’s syndrome or who struggle socially have a great disadvantage due to the multitasking that is necessary in creating relationships that go deeper and last longer. This article will cover a dozen objectives or goals that your child should master in order to make friends and be efficient in more complex situations.

  1. Learning to show interest in others. Explain why we all like to have others notice us and want to know more about us. Talk about why it’s fun to have a friend and come up with ideas of things to talk about. Practice good approaches, like, “Do you want to play with one of my yo-yo’s?” versus a bad opening, like “Hey, do you know I have forty yo-yo’s and I’m better than you at them?” Often, struggling children will try to be the expert on a subject and will bore others away from them. Demonstrate to your child by making him/her sit through a one-sided discussion from you on a topic he/she has no interest in, then ask him/her how they felt or how interesting you seemed to them.
  2. Becoming more interesting to others. Children often persevere on their one good talent they’ve been told they have when in fact they have many other interesting things they can do. Make a list of these and practice talking about them. Practice talking about yourself in a short, one minute introduction and have your child try it. Help your child understand what most children like to discuss; things like pets, favorite TV shows or trips and that astral-physics and dinosaur anatomy really leaves a lot of people out of a conversation.
  3. Trying out new hobbies and interests. To become more interesting, your child may have to expand their current activities. One way to have more friends is to be involved in groups that have a cause or interest. Talk about different hobbies such as collecting items or taking some new classes. Your child can ask other children what they are interested in, then explore the subject by attending a similar program or researching the topic at the library. Sports is not always the answer to getting your child involved since they might be motor-delayed or clumsy. Ask adults what they were interested in as children or visit a craft and hobby store in your area to get ideas.
  4. Learning to encourage and compliment others. Children need to understand what discouragement or rude comments feel like first, so discuss time when you know your child has been discouraged or someone has been rude to him. Talk about what would have been nice to hear someone say during that time. Make a list of encouraging statements and practice them at home and in public. Watch movies and decide if the people are using encouraging or discouraging statements. Talk about people in your child’s environment and list the nice compliments that could be said to each of them.
  5. Understanding fairness and letting others choose sometimes. Some children feel that if someone is their friend, the own them or can dictate everything they do together. Give example around the house that show fairness. Role-play situations where choices need to be made and practice letting someone else make a choice without being angry or bossy. Talk about how to work out disagreements by discussing who gets to choose first, asking what else they can think to do or putting off personal choices until the next time.
  6. Sharing friends. Often a child will get on best friend and then have a very hard time when that best friend plays with others. Talk about family dynamics and that parents don’t have just one favorite child. Help your child recognize that getting to know another person makes two friends to play with. What can you do with three people that you can’t do with two? Explain that begging a friend to not play with others makes you seem needy and not fun to be around. Practice saying statements that are sincere, like, “I hope you had a good time” or “What did you do together?”
  7. Keeping promises. Children share secrets all of the time and promise not to tell. They promise to take turns and to share things. But if your child makes bold statements such as, “I’m going to bring you an expensive present” or invites someone to come to an expensive outing, you can see how they will not be able to keep those promises. Discuss that your child doesn’t have to promise things that are spectacular and that just little promises are the most important idea in keeping a friend.
  8. Don’t badmouth or gossip. Discuss what these both mean. Badmouthing is criticizing and gossiping is spreading around a bad story about someone. Think of times your child has had both of these done to him/her or when he/she has done the same thing and talk about the feelings they cause. Talk about how saying bad things about people won’t change them or their irritating habits. Practice saying something nice about a person when gossip starts to fly. Help your child understand that gossiping is the wrong way to fit into a group and can only come back to hurt him/her or get him/her in trouble.
  9. Having clear expectations. Discuss how it makes us feel relaxed to know that is expected of us and what is “being prepared”. Talk about how to be prepared for different activities. Would we feel embarrassed if we were the only one to wear a costume to school or if we went to a birthday party and didn’t bring a present? Practice asking the correct questions in order to know enough information. Role-play being prepared for different situations like visiting a relative versus going to a sleep over. Going to the circus versus playing a soccer game. Most embarrassing situations can be avoided by understanding the expectations.
  10. Learning to say ‘no’ without being rude. Children who struggle socially can be brusque or rude when they feel pressured or don’t want to do something. Discuss why it’s important to be able to say ‘no’ but also how to do that politely. List rude comments like, “you’re crazy, forget it, go away, or no way” and come up with positive statements like, “Sorry, but I can’t”, “I won’t be able to do that but thanks anyway”, or “no thank you, but maybe we can do something else later.” Discuss that by being rude, your child may not get invited again.
  11. Don’t say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’. Children who have limited friends often agree to do things even when they don’t want to just to keep the interactions going. Point out some instances in your family where that has happened and discuss the negative results of saying what you don’t mean. Tie this into the earlier goal of always trying to be honest and keeping promises. Mentions that you could get into trouble or hurt by agreeing to do things you know are wrong. Talk about what some of these are.
  12. Not hurting others feelings and apologizing. These are hard rules for everyone but for socially struggling children, they are even harder. These kids usually make statements without realizing that they are hurtful and when it comes to apologizing, they get angry because what they said was true. “You have a long nose” or “You’re too fat for my team.” Talk about all of the different feelings someone can have when they are hurt: sad, mad, shocked, crying, pouting. Practice seeing what those faces look like. Talk about what you should say if you see someone has this look on their face. Practice ‘sorry’ statements. Talk about why saying sorry makes you more grown-up, a better friend and shows you are responsible enough to take the blame for doing something wrong.

Putting It All Together

 For any child to have success, they must be able to put together all the above objectives and develop their own style by practicing. The work of connecting non-verbal and verbal communication is central to healthy social skills development. You can talk about them being cool. In essence, ‘cool’ is knowing and using correct connections of word choice, tone, and politeness. Developing these good communication skills makes you ‘cool’.
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Social Skills 101 – Part 1

canstockphoto0520321Helping the Child Who Struggles with Social Skills

Social and communication skills seem to come naturally for most, and because of that we never stop to wonder how we learned those skills. There isn’t a preschool class specific to manners and communication, yet when growing up, most toddlers easily make friends, answer questions appropriately and understand that having a conversation is a “give and take” deal. So when we encounter someone who struggles in these areas, we’re not sure how to start teaching the skills.

Teaching the Basics

Start at the most basic level of the communication process: recognizing a good conversation and what the roles are when people communicate.

Notice others and what they are NOT saying

The language of non-verbal communication is based on a language of the eyes and carries a great deal of information about the conversation you’re having. Here is a list of the non-verbal cues children need to learn to notice:

  • Mood or feelings
  • Expressions
  • Posture
  • Spatial relationship to others
  • Tone of voice
  • Speed of speech
  • Word choice

Only mentioning what these are will not be enough. All of these cues need to be modeled and practiced in order to become ingrained and automatic on a daily basis. Model the behavior for your child. For example, show how your posture or expression can signal different feelings and talk about why that’s important to know. Try asking the child to explain what you just did, then ask him/her to model or demonstrate what you just did and then develop a way to add the behavior to the child’s through practice.

Beyond the Basics

Once your child is able to ‘read’ another person’s non-verbal expressions, tone and meaning, then you can begin to build a foundation of good social skills. When developing a foundation of social skills, assess your child’s social deficits and strengths first. Here are some important skills:

  • Making eye contact and using and noticing facial expressions, posture and physical proximity
  • Speaking clearly while using intonation and appropriate volume
  • Choosing topics of conversation that are appropriate to the setting and audience
  • Maintaining a topic in conversation as well as being flexible in changing topics
  • Taking turns while conversing and waiting to be acknowledged or called on before speaking
  • Using appropriate conversational small talk
  • Introducing oneself and others
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Keeping others in mind while conversing – a conversation isn’t a monologue

Addressing the above skills should be done with appropriate modeling from siblings, peers or a professional. Ensure it’s someone who will be encouraging and instructive.

Activities to increase these skills:

  1. Videotape your child making a series of facial expressions: happy, sad, angry, worried, scared, bored and so on. Have the child watch the video and discuss what they observe.
  2. Turn off the sound on the TV during a video or movie and work with the child to decipher what is happening. This will require that the child correctly ‘reads’ the facial, posture and gestural cues.
  3. Read a story and ask, “What do you think would happen next?” Discuss cues and how important it is to have some theory of action; some way to predict what is likely to happen next.
  4. Teaching your child to listen to another’s ideas can be accomplished by having the child repeat back or respond to the opinions of family members on certain topics. “Dad likes golf because….” “Mom doesn’t like it because….”. Your child can be a reporter and pretend they are recording the speaker’s comments to show on the news later. Show what happens when you don’t listen to them. Talk about how they feel when you didn’t hear what was said.
  5. Take your child with you to places where people are doing a trade. Model for your child how to show interest in another person’s work by asking questions and using appropriate answers that imply that you are listening. Have your child prepare to ask a few, pre-practiced questions themselves ans to remember what the person told them. Remind your child this is not the time for them to begin talking about their own interests.
  6. Use dolls or puppets to act out how to make a friend and how to engage that new friend in a conversation.
  7. Help your child come up with ways to spend time with friends by discussing places to go and things to do with friends. Talk about possible disagreements and the ‘give and take’ of friendships.
  8. To teach an understanding of how other people feel, discuss situations with your child about times they were scared, elated or very angry. Find a book or magazine and identify what people in the pictures might be feeling. Go to a mall and people-watch. Identify people who are happy, hurried and depressed.

When your child practices and masters these very early skills, their self-esteem and confidence will increase and their anxiety in social situations will decrease. They will be ready to learn the more complex social skills, like letting go of an argument or dealing with humor or sarcasm.

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