Assessment of Contexts and Determining Socially Valid Skills

Assessment of Contexts and Determining Socially Valid Skills

Assessment of contexts means determining contexts in which the student will—or could—potentially function and the types of opportunities for social interaction within each of those contexts. However, identification of social contexts alone is insufficient. In addition, you must identify what skills are needed within those environments and the naturally occurring reinforcement and punishment contingencies found in these environments. For example, the socialization demands of using a library may involve initiating interaction with librarians for assistance. A student with autism who attempts to talk to other students about topics unrelated to the reasons for being in the library may be redirected by the librarian or even asked to leave if the off-task talking continues or is too loud. The rules for social interaction in the library are rather standard and consistent across time. By contrast, having lunch with same-age peers would require the far different social skills of responding to peer social initiations and possibly adult directives, initiating social interactions with peers, choosing appropriate topics of conversation, understanding slang and colloquialisms used by peers, and being familiar with popular cultural references. The “rules” for lunchtime conversations are more subtle, and social responses to “rule-breaking” behavior is far different. A student with autism who talks about characteristics of animal droppings may find that other students laugh at first, but if the discourse continues, other students may verbally disapprove or move away.

The demands of specific target environments should be identified using four steps (see Table 7.1 ). The first step is to determine the target environments where students with autism will have opportunities for social interactions: cafeteria, recess, group instruction or center time in general education classrooms, and so forth.

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