Goals at GroupWorks West
Blog: What are the Goals of Group at GroupWorks West?
As you are looking into the possibility of enrolling your child/teen in a social skills group you will find the primary orientation is to teach skills by relying on rote memory. This means group leaders expect members to memorize social behavior by use of role play, social scripting, verbal prompting, and didactic instruction (brief lectures). Some group programs also provide a written curriculum that includes homework in the form of fill in the blank worksheets.
The expectation of this type of group is members will memorize greetings and good byes, give-and-take conversation rules (ask questions, wait for answers, look at the speaker) conflict resolution techniques, eye contact, play rules (ask your friend what he wants to do, share your toys, support your friend’s ideas). The basic premise of this type of group is children/teens on the spectrum are limited to memorizing social skills and acting “as if” they are socially competent. This premise rules out the possibility children/teens on the spectrum are capable of forming meaningful, satisfying, and lasting emotional attachments to their peers.
At GroupWorks West we believe every child/teen on the spectrum can do more than memorize competent behavior. Simply stated, we are more ambitious and more optimistic than typical social skills groups because we believe the sky is the limit. Every one on the spectrum can develop a best friend, a sense of belonging to a social community, and, yes, a life partner down the road.
How do we support the development of social relationships (not skills)? This is our tried and true approach (developed over the past 9 years):
1) Maintain a visually neutral/simple environment so that group members are not distracted by objects (toys, games, building materials, etc.). This allows for members to focus on one another, thus supporting their capacity for joint attention (attending to the same thing as their play partner).
2) Expand social motivation. At GroupWorks West we want group members to apply social skills by virtue of their emotional attachment to one another. Typically developing children become socially competent beings due to their motivation to please caregivers and peers. They do not use social skills because they have to, but rather because they want to. How do we expand social motivation? By engaging in activities that are pleasurable/fun/exciting and oriented around relationships in the group. The pleasure/joy of being in the group fuels motivation to support the relationships in the group. When our group members say “Hey. How are you doing?” they are doing so because they are genuinely happy to see one another.
3) Build social community. The vast majority of children/teens on the spectrum have never experienced what it feels like to be a member of a social community. They are usually on the margins of a group or they are have been rejected by groups. GroupWorks West focuses on creating a strong sense of community in each group. We expect each member to feel understood, accepted, valued, and important. Most of our children/teens begin to see their friends in the group as extended family.
4) Value the journey, not the destination. The vast majority of children/teens on the spectrum do not value the process or journey of social interaction. They are almost exclusively focused on objects and activities – Lego, trains, a video game, a particular DVD, book, topic/facts. The relationship with their play partner matters little. The purpose of the interaction is to satisfy their interest. It’s all about destination and not the process. Our groups are ONLY about the journey of friendship – we want to have fun on whatever path we travel. Group members learn to trust that the journey will be rewarding/fun/enjoyable/exciting.
5) Create support and feedback. Group members learn to support one another and give accurate and meaningful feedback. We encourage members to ask questions and give and receive feedback about social behavior. We also expect group members to respond to feedback by making changes and adjustments in their behavior.
6) Increase flexibility. Expanded flexibility is crucial to the progress of each member. Most members come in to group with very rigid preferences and interests. Initially they reject activities that do not line up exactly with their needs. As time progresses members begin to value the group over their individual needs and preferences. They begin to trust that being engaged in the group will create greater pleasure, joy and meaning than ANY solo activity.
Now that you have read about our goals, it’s a good idea to compare and contrast our group program with other groups. Whatever you decide, keep in mind your child/teen can make meaningful and lasting friendships with peers. And always remember you can have the same hopes as a parent of a typical child/teen: friends, belonging to a social community, a good job, and a family.
Feel free to contact me with comments and questions!!