Social groups for children with autism have become a staple of the service options. Many social groups consist of a few kids of the same age playing board games, building legos, or even meeting at the park. While these activities can be helpful, there are many ways to design the social group structure. Due to the number of children in social groups it can be difficult to individualize the session. With the suggestions below you can develop a group that will not only benefit the children but also your program.
The first step to creating a better group is to move from an age based focus to a developmental based group. There are several benefits to groups based on developmental level. Each child will have similar goals allowing your program design to meet the need of each child. The individual strengths of each child will be near the zone of proximal development of their peers making it easier for the children to learn from each other. Finally, pairing each child with an appropriate peer will be much easier.
Creating a developmentally appropriate play group requires a few deliberate steps. The first thing to consider is a simple developmental assessment. I like the Developmental Profile 3 (DP-3). The DP-3 is a simple parent based assessment that includes a questionnaire for children birth to 11 years. Utilizing the assessment you can determine the developmental levels for the groups. Since the focus of social groups is developing social skills you may want to utilize social and communication domains. I like to build my groups based on key social needs. The following group categories could be offered.
Beginner Groups: focus on parallel play, sharing, and beginning toy and game play skills.
Intermediate Groups: focus on turn taking or co-regulation with peers, initiating conversation, and independent toy or game manipulation.
Advanced Groups: focus on conversational advancement, team problem solving, and true co-operative play.
Based on the simple descriptions individual goals can easily be addressed in the group format.
The final thing to consider when developing social groups is how parents will be included. Being a strong believer in parent involvement I always choose a parent teaching component. Depending on your resources you may or may not choose to include parents. If you do, one option is to have parents work directly with their child under your guidance. The second option is to provide parent training simultaneous to the social group but in a separate room. Since your groups are developmentally based the parent group is much more beneficial. You can discuss strategies and topics that will help increase their social play skills.
Developing a developmental social group that includes parent support will offer a true support system for families while providing a quality service to your community. The only worry you will have is coming up with all the fun games and activities.
For more information about Guided Spectrum social groups and to join our interest list contact us at (530) 588-4539 or GuidedSpectrum@gmail.com.