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Guest Blogger Peggy Simpson and Social Skills

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Note:  I am off to a conference on special education and will be keeping everyone updated on what I learn.  In the meantime, Peggy Simpson was kind enough to guest post about her experiences regarding social skills with students with ASD.  Don’t forget the freebie from Friday of helper cards with QR codes….they might help if you recognize the situation #2.
I’m very excited about being a guest blogger here
today.  My name is Peggy Simpson and I’ve
been a special education teacher (of students with Autism, Intellectual
Disability, Visual Impairment, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Emotionally Disturbed,
Other Health Impairment – and any other thing that comes up) for the past 13
years.  One thing I’ve learned is to
never expect that your students come into your classroom with knowledge and
daily use of basic social skills.
Here are some scenarios:
1) You are teaching a class on transcription/translation
(protein manufacturing).  The kids are
into it!  They are drawing their codons
and everyone is getting along and participating when SUDDENLY. . . The Lack Of
Basic Social Skills’ Monster strikes. . . .and, I mean literally.  One student, looking at another student’s
work remarks, “That’s broken!” (“Broken” is slang for “cool.”)  The student, who believes they have been
disrespected, jumps up and slams a closed fist into the head of the other
student and then falls on the floor in a full blown tantrum.  Chaos quickly ensues. 
2) During lunch, some students have found a baby bunny
living under a trash trailer by the school bleachers.  One student (you know the one!) has decided
that the other students are planning on touching the bunny (with no evidence to
support this fear) – so, this student runs wildly across the track (often
running into a metal pole and getting hurt) on their way to the principal’s
office (to turn in the “offenders”) before the “tattling student” is struck
with a horrid bunny disease.  Of course,
if this student has a cell phone (and what student doesn’t?) they have also
informed their mom of the impending disaster.
3) A special trip has been planned to a local buffet, as
reinforcement for great behavior the last three months in the classroom.  As the students are picking out food, from
the buffet, you realize (in horror) that one student is systematically picking
up food (with his hands) smelling it, (often licking it) and then (if it does
not meet some inner approval) throwing back onto the buffet.
I could go on (and on) but these three give you a good idea
of what havoc, a lack of understanding and use of basic social skills can bring
to your room.
When I first started teaching, I really resented the time I
had to schedule (everyday) to teach basic social skills.  After experiencing some of the above
scenarios, I soon learned to “get over” my perceptions.  The one thing that I found that really works
is direct instruction of basic social skills – that means you need to task analyze
(use an anchor chart if you like and involve the entire class) each and every
part of the social skill you are targeting. 
In addition, you need to have the students write the steps down
somewhere and then keep them.   Otherwise,
you will likely get, “you never taught us that social skill before!”  Don’t engage in power struggles with your
students!  I always think of the old
aphorism: “Never Try To Teach a Pig to Sing – It WASTES
Your Time and It Annoys the Pig.” 
What does that really mean?  Set
up your classroom to avoid having problems – be proactive – not reactive!
Create, download, and buy – in any combination – all the
social skills items that you can find! 
It is this author’s opinion, that you can NEVER have too many social
skills tools.  In fact, if you don’t use
them – pass them on to another floundering teacher.  I learned that each of the scenarios above
could have been prevented with better social skills training for my students
(and if I’m being perfectly honest – also myself and staff).  Please do yourself a favor (and your
students) and at least look at some tools available on the internet
(teacherspayteachers.com) to help you with social skills’ teaching.  It’s not rocket science – but it can sure
feel like you’ve made it to the moon, when the student “gets it” and starts to
generalize the social skill!  Best of
luck and below you will find my solutions (you will likely have others) to the
above scenarios.
1) At a neutral time, I teach Anger Management Strategies.  This isn’t one that “goes away” as students
with autism are often challenged/angered by their perception of others.  I also created a social story for this 10th
grade girl (surprised?  not all students
with autism are boys) titled, “Keeping Hands and Feet To Self.”  Together, these worked wonders and the
student is actually in an honor’s biology class this year (by herself – no
aide).
2) This student was always scared, clumsy and seemed to
spend most of his life appearing “powerless.” 
The first thing I did was to test for “proprioperception” (through a fun
card sort game).  After we scored it
(together) we discussed the results and where some challenges might be for this
student.  Next, I taught the entire class
the social skills steps for “Tattling or Reporting.”  Finally, I allowed this student to have some
leadership jobs in the room.  This last
step was to encourage a sense of power and accomplishment in the student
(hopefully, decreases the need to tattle). 
This student has since graduated high school and has a full time job (on
a janitorial crew no less – inner smile) and is in line to be the (no pun
intended) head bathroom checker.
3) The third one bothered me more than it bothered the
student.  So, I went home that night and
used a large piece of paper to create an anchor chart – to task analyze, that
which I should have taught (manners to use at a buffet) BEFORE I took the class into the situation.  I have NEVER had that kind of incident happen
again – you see, I can be trained – just like the students!
Hope my experiences have helped you! Special Education –
Peggy Simpson
You can check out Peggy’s TPT store for social skills and speech resources.

3 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Peggy Simpson and Social Skills”

  1. I have just read this at the right time! I have had another terrible day with a student with extremely high social skills needs (today involved chair throwing because he needed to ask to go to the toilet). You've given me a new burst of energy to try again tomorrow! Now I'm off to make a new social story…

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