Kids who need help with social skills may learn best together

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Children who need assistance improving their social skills might benefit more when grouped with peers who have similar social skill levels, rather than with peers who have a similar disability or disorder, according to new research.

“We know that how you group children together in an intervention situation matters immensely,” says Janine Stichter, professor of special education at the College of Education at the University of Missouri. “However, we have to consider what types of groups work better than others and create the best positive behavior outcomes.”

“Social skills aren’t just about friendship. It’s about being able to react to and thrive in your environment…”

Stichter and her team worked with nearly 300 students with varying social disorders across 34 middle schools to test what conditions make group-based social interventions more effective. Current practices are often ineffective, she says, because children are conveniently grouped together by matching class schedules or similar disorders.

Stichter found that grouping by disability or disorder is less successful at creating positive behavior changes than grouping children by similar social abilities.

“One child might have difficulties looking people in the face, while another might have issues staying on topic,” Stichter says. “However, if they both are at the level where they can interact and realize they have behaviors that need to be corrected, they can communicate effectively and help each other in a group setting. They essentially learn together.”

For example, it might not be ideal to form groups made up solely of children on the autism spectrum. Instead, it could be more beneficial for children’s development to group them with others who have similar social abilities but have a wide array of challenges.

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“Social skills aren’t just about friendship. It’s about being able to react to and thrive in your environment,” Stichter says. “That’s why families and practitioners have this drive to help children as early and as effectively as we possibly can. If we’re not taking the time to match children with the correct interventions, then we run the risk of wasting time and possibly hampering their development.”

The research appears in School Psychology Quarterly. Additional coauthors are from the University of Missouri and East Carolina University.

Source: University of Missouri