We all know that our children on the autism spectrum have needs when it comes to social skills. Maybe they don’t seem very interested in playing with other children. Maybe they are super interested, but they just don’t seem to know how to join in on the playground.
It may seem like the Individualized Education Program (IEP) should be all about academics, but that’s not the case. True, academics are important. Our kids will go a lot farther when they are better able to read, do math, and express themselves in writing and verbally. But there is more to life than just the 3 Rs.
Ask your IEP team how your child interacts during unstructured time, on the playground, in the cafeteria, or in passing periods.
Does he stick to himself, walking the perimeter of the playground, sifting sand, or engaged in solitary pursuits such as swinging or climbing alone?
Does she stand nearby, watching other children at play, without joining in?
If so, consider adding a social skills goal for outside play to the IEP, if you don’t already have one. Base it on where your child is now socially, and where you would like him to be in a year’s time, realistically speaking.
Make sure the goal is achievable. Can he do it? Does he have the prerequisite skills needed? If you say, “I want my (nonverbal) child to verbally ask other kids to play with him by next year,” be sure your child’s case manager or Speech-Language Pathologist feels that he can actually accomplish this in one year’s time. If not, consider modifying the goal to accommodate your child’s communication medium, whether signs, gestures, picture icons or an augmentative communication device. If a student uses alternative forms of communication, that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve a social interaction goal. Just write it specifically for your child’s strengths and needs.
You also want to make sure your child’s social goal is measurable. Writing something vague such as, “The student will be exposed to typically-developing peers at recess and lunch,” or “The student will become more comfortable interacting with peers,” are just not measurable. How will you know if he met the goal?
Try writing a very specific and measurable goal with objectives leading up to the ultimate goal, along the lines of this:
“By (date), after being presented on at least 4 occasions with social stories and observing staff members role modeling social initiation examples consisting of at least 2 back-and-forth exchanges:
(1) the student will engage in supervised social initiation role plays consisting of 2 or more back-and-forth exchanges, in the classroom, with staff and known peers, at least 4 times, as shown by staff observational data, and
(2) the student will engage in supervised social initiation role plays, consisting of 2 or more back-and-forth exchanges, on the playground, with known peers, at least 4 times, as shown by staff observational data, and
(3) in response to staff suggestion/encouragement, the student will approach and initiate social contact consisting of at least 2 back-and-forth exchanges, with a known or unknown peer on the playground, on 4 occasions, as shown by staff observational data.”
By talking to your child’s case manager before the IEP and discussing in advance your ideas about social goals for your child, you will be ready to spring into action at the IEP meeting. The result of your teamwork will benefit your child.