Social Competence Versus Social Skills

Social Competence Versus Social Skills

Teaching social skills is an important but insufficient goal. The purpose for teaching social skills is to improve individuals social behavior and ultimately their social functioning. But social functioning does not occur in isolation. Social functioning requires interactions among individuals, and successful social functioning requires positive, healthy, and developmentally appropriate interactions. Successful social functioning for children and youth with autism requires not only that the child with autism exhibit skilled social behavior but also that social partners respond appropriately to that behavior and that others view the child favorably (or even neutrally). This describes the difference between social competence and social skills . Social competence refers to other people’s perceptions of the social performance of an individual (Hops, 1983). Socially competent individuals are usually able to initiate and maintain friendships and interpersonal relationships, interact appropriately with authority figures, and effectively manage stressful situations. Social skills are those discrete social behaviors that are typically exhibited by socially competent individuals, such as maintaining eye contact, asking relevant questions, greeting others, taking turns in conversations and other interactions, joining peers in play, standing an appropriate distance from others, and so forth.

The distinction between social competence and social skills is important. Appropriate use of discrete social skills does not necessarily result in social competence. This means that efforts focused only on teaching discrete social behaviors to students with autism (teaching the child to make eye contact, respond to adults’ greetings, etc.) may be inefficient; the child’s skills must be considered with regard to contexts in which he or she must function, including social behaviors needed for success in those contexts and desired social outcomes within those contexts. For example, little is accomplished by teaching a child with autism to respond to peers’ greetings if peers do not initiate greetings. Nor is it particularly useful to teach a child with autism how to participate in leisure activities if he is then excluded from those activities by typically developing peers. Contextual targets include both settings (e.g., cafeteria, general education classrooms, playground) and potential social partners within those contexts (e.g., classmates and teachers).

Finally, increasing a child with autism’s repertoire of social behaviors probably will not result in that child being viewed as socially competent if he continues to engage in high levels of stigmatizing behaviors that may dissuade others from interaction (e.g., stereotypy and challenging behavior). The child’s challenging stigmatizing behaviors would likely overshadow more appropriate social behaviors, with the result that peers would not wish to interact with the student regardless of the quantity or quality of her social skills.

7-3 Assessment Strategies for Determining Socialization Curriculum

The first step in intervention for any area of instruction is to determine what the child needs to learn. Determining socialization deficits means evaluating three areas:

· (1)

contexts in which the child functions to determine the social demands in each,

· (2)

the social culture of those contexts to determine socially valid skills (skills that are reinforced in the natural environment) to teach, and

· (3)

the child’s level of socialization in those contexts to determine skills the child needs to learn.

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