“Sam will independently approach a peer on the playground with a statement of initiation across 3 days and 3 novel peers.”

How many have read a statement like that on an IEP? This statement might reflect a goal pertaining to social skills. Social skills…let’s talk about those words. A quick Google search yielded us this:

“A social skill is any skill facilitating interaction and communication with others. Social rules and relations are created, communicated, and changed in the verbal and nonverbal ways. The process of learning these skills is called socialization.”

In plainer English: social skills mean interacting with another person and learning the verbal and nonverbal cues. The process itself is called socialization. So we need a process of socialization to build skills.

Got it. But how?

Many programs look at “skills” to teach and may create goals like the example above. programs could be made to target specific goals. However let’s talk about the environment. Environment is the crucial piece often forgotten when teaching specific skills. A safe space and a connection to the members around an individual could offer a far more enriched social experience than discrete skill building.

So what is a socially enriched environment? It really depends on the person and that person’s interests. If you have a young individual who dislikes sports and loves video game coding, then a sports team may not be a socially enriched environment. Additionally if an individual in her 50s would like to meet people, and loved to cook, a cooking class or meet up might be more of a socially enriching environment than a book club. Once the culture of the group is established and those in attendance all have something in common tied to the group and the social environment. While engaging in shared interests, the process of socialization can be fostered and facilitated in a more naturally occurring way.

The most important piece is to always validate a person’s involvement in the group and the individual’s personal definition of “social skills.” It is important to ensure the skill is not only socially relevant to the zeitgeist of the community, but more so, important to the individual.

We at Spotlight are mindful about the use of the words “appropriate” and “inappropriate.” In our environment we choose to say we “appreciate” others’ actions as opposed to naming them as appropriate. Oppositely we use the term “potentially upsetting/bothersome/embarrassing” in exchange for inappropriate. Appropriate and inappropriate are subjective terms, and celebrating a person’s special interest and validating it within the environment further deepens the opportunity for enrichment. Appreciating someone’s contributions reinforces their connection to the environment and hopefully creates opportunities for like-minded individuals to form strong bonds that are uniquely individualized — blossoming from social enrichment.

To learn more about Northeast Arc’s Spotlight Program, click here.