Social skills allow us to connect with other people and develop fulfilling interactions. Difficulty with these skills can cause problems in many areas of life including school, work, home, and in the community. Struggling with social skills is different from not “being social.” People may want to interact, but when they do, the negative feedback they receive from others, makes socializing stressful and confusing. They might struggle to make conversation, seem out of sync, or behave in ways that offend other people. Teens and Adolescents may have difficulty interpreting nonverbal social cues and following social etiquette. That makes it challenging for them to “fit in,” form friendships, and work with others. Adolescents may avoid interacting, causing them to feel withdrawn and alone with their struggles. These negative social experiences can often harm their self confidence and self esteem.
Executive functioning skills are developed in the prefrontal cortex (broca’s area) from early childhood through approximately 18 years of age. They combine cognitive, communication, sensory, and motor skills we have developed to establish & maintain healthy adult relationships. Starting at a very young age, we use these skills to conduct daily activities, from playing to socializing and learning. Problem solving, flexibility, emotional regulation, impulse control, and self-awareness are just some of the executive functioning skills we use to navigate the social rules required to initiate and maintain friendships.
Not all individuals develop executive functioning milestones in the same way. For many teens and young adults with unique learning needs, when it comes time to navigate social expectations, they struggle to sustain the behaviors and expectations we have for executive functioning. Whether it’s due to a language delay causing communication difficulties or low motivation, the foundational executive functioning skills may not be strong enough to support pragmatic social skills. Many studies support the idea that it's possible to overcome these barriers with small group direct instruction with same aged peers.
In small groups through role play, social stories, and video feedback, teens may improve their perspective taking, social anxiety, impulse control, frustration tolerance, and emotional regulation. Small group instruction also focuses on greetings, self-advocacy language and understanding figurative language. The ultimate goal is to improve your child's language and behavior to foster healthy relationships and avoid social discomfort.