Monday, April 13, 2015

Autism Awareness Month: Make Social Learning Stick!

Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence Through Everyday Routines and Activities by SLP and social cognitive specialist Elizabeth Sautter is a book all clinicians working with students with social learning and executive functioning challenges should have on their shelves! The book synthesizes the work of some greats in the field--Elizabeth herself, author of the Whole Body Listening Larry series, The Incredible 5-Point Scale creator Kari Dunn Buron, Leah Kuypers, author of Zones of Regulation, Emily Rubin of SCERTS®. executive functioning guru Sarah Ward, Michelle Garcia Winner of Social Thinking® and play expert Pamela Wolfberg-- into a practical how-to guide to teachable moments across the day. The book provides suggestions for structuring activities and scaffolding language and cognition at home, in the community, and around special events such as holidays. The goal of the book, above all, is to "make social learning stick" by emphasizing the power of the milieu and thus to maximize generalization of skills.

The book begins with a brief overview of cognitive factors in social learning, including sensory processing, regulation, language and theory of mind, but wastes no time in getting to its purpose: presenting functional suggestions of activities to build "social smarts" across daily events. These include themes such as starting the day, getting ready for school, meal preparation, play, chores, and other daily routines. Community themes target moments for learning while at the mall, supermarket, grocery store, restaurants, and other locations.

Each theme features talking points about "hidden rules" or expected and unexpected behaviors for the situation, as well as integration of "job talk" that "helps the child take ownership and become more willing to jump in and complete the task." For example, when asking the child to check the weather so as to plan for the day's events and clothing, one can say "You be the weather reporter." Also within each themed page are suggestions of activities and discussions that can help the child build observation skills, situational awareness, conversational language, organization and self regulation, among other areas.

Image from Make Social Learning Stick on Pinterest

The latter section of the book contains helpful gems: a glossary of social cognitive language, rationale for some of the evidence-based practices espoused in the book such as milieu teaching and social narratives, and visual strategies such as the 5-point scale, sample visual schedules, and conversational supports such as a web of "Wonder Question" starters to help the child come up with questions to ask other people (a sampling of these forms can also be found on the book's website).

To remain "on message" for this blog, as I reviewed the book I found many possible simple technology tie-ins. Technology, after all, is part of our "everyday routines" that the book promotes as context for social learning, and using technology can make visuals and information more accessible, as well as ease the process of creating visuals for children. Some examples:

  • Being the "weather reporter" as referenced above can be facilitated with an app such as The Weather Channel or simply asking Siri, "What's the weather?"
  • Visual schedules can be easily made with apps such as Pic Collage or Keynote (as can 5-Point Scales, as I outlined last week).
  • Asking kids to "match the picture" of a completed task or chore can be made more explicit by marking up the picture with Skitch.
  • Essential and frequently used pictures or visual supports can be saved to an album in the Photos app or as PDF to an iBooks collection.
  • Activities such as discussing the layout of the supermarket to promote executive functioning can be made more visual through a quick diagram in an app such as Doodle Buddy.
  • and so on...
For SLPs and others working with students with social learning challenges, this book can serve as not only an essential guide within parent training and consultation, but also contains many points that can shape our own therapy activities and use of teachable moments! The book can be purchased through Autism Asperger's Publishing Company.

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