In a recent online chat, Jed Baker advocates for ASD social skills training that addresses relevance and motivation, matches language ability, and ensures generalization.
Participant: If a participant were to remember or put into practice only one idea from your session, what would that one key takeaway be?
Jed Baker: Perhaps the most important issue that is often overlooked is generalization. What you do in a session may not transfer unless you prime, coach and review systematically.
Participant: How you ever experienced pushback from a school about incorporating non-physical activities during recess time for all students? If so, how did you overcome that?
Baker: It is crucial to get an administrator on board, maybe to guide them to feel like it was their suggestion in the first place. Outdoor recess can look like indoor recess, just outside.
Participant: Does video modeling of successful play interaction help children with ASD understand play and conversation, or should there be supported dialogue or commentary that points out the successful parts?
Baker: I do think video modeling should be supported with highlighting crucial points. In addition, students may still need visual cues and reminders to use skills in natural settings after they see videos. Videos represent the learning of skills but not necessarily the generalization, unless supplemented with cues.
Participant: I am finding that many members of my team (me, aides, teachers, even some peers) are more invested than the parents. It is felt that at times, when the student goes home, all our progress that day is eliminated.
Baker: Be careful of thinking that work is undone by parents. Children can discriminate settings, so what they learn in one setting is not necessarily undone in another. It would be better if all are on board, but you can still make lots of progress even if parents do not follow through.
Participant: Do you have any tips for generalizing social skills in self-contained classrooms?
Baker: Reverse mainstreaming is very useful to extend skills with typical peers. Bringing in peers from other classes (even other schools) and doing community-based instruction can help extend skills to other people and settings. My social skills training books describe many of these activities to practice conversation in contrived and natural settings.
Participant: Do you have any suggestions for how to introduce or discuss red flags of ASD that are observed in children while [you are] conducting speech-language testing so they take the necessary measures to follow up with a developmental evaluation but not scare the parents?
Baker: Not sure what you are doing as part of your evaluation, but there are some quick autism screening evaluations, and longer ones as well, that identify symptoms of autism. I do not get caught up with diagnosis as the most clinically meaningful construct as it does not guide treatment, but it does guide justifying services. I would tell parents that if they see symptoms, it is not a lifelong prison sentence, but rather a way to get some supports from the school. And, that these early supports can help steer them in a positive developmental direction.
Participant: Any suggestions for addressing the needs of ASD students via telepractice?
Baker: This is easier to achieve with adults than with kids, and unless I have a motivated child, it is difficult to do direct therapy with kids, as they may not stay connected online. So much of the work may be with helping motivated caregivers help their students. It can also be very helpful if they take video of situations with their students so you can see context and consider what triggers the student or why they are having difficulty and what skills they need.
Participant: In regard to recess outside, including what is typically indoor games, do you mean to use highly preferred activities so that they enjoy and are engaged in the outdoor environment? And is the intention to get other children (typical kids in our inclusion preschool setting) to play with these children to increase interactions?
Baker: We must consider what is comfortable for the child with ASD to play if we want to maximize their social participation. That could mean board games but may still be movement games, too. I consider games that require little wait time (less turn-taking) and less language demands for kids with ASD with attention and language issues. Red light-green light, rolling a ball back and forth, hide and seek, follow the leader, some charade-like guessing games, where kids may not need language or have to wait long for a turn as we play all at once.
Participant: Can you provide some ideas about how to facilitate joint attention in young, lower-functioning children with autism who don’t display this skill at all?
Baker: I have some free videos on YouTube. There are commercially available videos, yet I find my students love and benefit from making their own videos. Clear the room of all distractions. Make yourself the center of their visual field. Hold attractive toys, objects and have them come to you or go through you to get those objects. Hold the objects by your eyes. Teach them to point to get the object. More ideas are available through the Early Start Denver Model. The ABA traditional approach is to reward eye contact—but that does not ensure joint attention, but rather only that they turn toward you. Finding intrinsically pleasing activities and objects that they go through you to get may invite a more genuine joint attention.
Participant: Do you consider one (intrinsic/extrinsic motivators) to be more effective when targeting social skills with students with autism?
Baker: I do think intrinsic motivation is where we want to be to establish the motivation to interact naturally. Yet sometimes we need to start with external reinforcements to introduce a novel activity that the child may not yet know he/she will enjoy.
Participant: Do you ever find that the typical peers included in lunch bunches/social groups/social buddies find it a burden to do this? And do you see generalization of the interactions?
Baker: I try to have enough volunteers who rotate so we reduce burnout. I also offer lots of praise for their kindness in reaching out to ensure they feel good about their interaction (even when the student with ASD may not be able to express appreciation). Peer buddies do not always become friends outside of school. Matching folks with similar interests and experiences often leads to more reciprocal friendships. We can mandate friendliness in school but not friendship. We can match-make to create possibility of friends, yet this will only happen if both parties want to be friends. Yes, kids with ASD are often on the fringe, which is why we do some match-making and peer buddy programs. Consider matching by common interest, as that is the most natural basis for friendship.Participant: I work in a school for children with autism that uses a group approach, and my two biggest challenges when teaching social skills are the lack of typical peer models and not having my students grouped by any specific level of functioning. Do you have any recommendations to overcoming these challenges?
Baker: I was in this position many times when told to provide skills training for a class, when actually the class was like three classes in one. Break up students into smaller groups for certain activities and larger group for activities that all can do together. Use your judgment and not just the inertia of an IEP you may have inherited from someone else.
Participant: How do I get admin on board with mixed-therapy settings for students that don’t already have it specified in their IEP?
Baker: That is how IEPs are really supposed to work—fluidly. Consider the use of typical peers for group at a non-academic time with great games and snacks. Some kids love lunch bunches because they get more time than usual for lunch!
Participant: I am very interested in putting together a peer learning group to share what I have gained from this conference. Any tips?
Baker: You may want to check out some of my books as tools to support learning (http://www.jedbaker.com/index.htm). I have workshops and books that focus on replacing challenging behaviors and anxiety management, as well as books on social skills training. They overlap, as social skills can replace challenging behaviors, yet social skills can also be independent of challenging behaviors and just help kids connect to each other. With regard to challenging behaviors, social skills training is only one component. We will also need to modify demands to reduce these difficult moments. You may want to look at my “No More Meltdown” book for tips on creating effective behavior plans.
Participant: Regarding the video modeling, do you include the student with ASD and a typical peer model? Do you provide a script or any guidance prior to the recording or let it play out and coach after?
Baker: It depends on what we are trying to do. You can just have neurotypical kids model behavior and provide structure and script. Or, we can do video self-modeling with our client as the star, and we provide some coaching and scripting, then edit out off-task behavior so we are left with the behavior we wanted to present. Kids tend to imitate themselves on video, so this can increase desired behaviors.
Jed Baker, PhD, is the director of the Social Skills Training Project, an organization serving individuals with autism and social communication problems. He is on the professional advisory board of Autism Today, ASPEN, ANSWER, YAI, the Kelberman Center, and several other autism organizations. firstname.lastname@example.org