A Strengths Based Approach to Social Skills Programming

Many autism interventions are built on a deficit model that begins by identifying the behaviors that are causing the most social difficulty, and then designing a curriculum to address problems. For example, according to Bellini (2006), the six major areas of impairment in social functioning include:

  1. Nonverbal communication
  2. Social initiation
  3. Reciprocity and terminating interactions
  4. Social cognition
  5. Behaviors associated with perspective taking and self-awareness
  6. Social anxiety and social withdrawal

These concerns are real, tangible, and difficult to cope with. The impulse as a parent or educator is to ameliorate problem areas by targeting deficits as quickly and effectively as possible. In the rush to target valuable energy and resources to solve problems, your child's innate strengths and capabilities can be forgotten.

As a pracitioner offering social skills groups in the greater Hartford region, I feel that it is critical to design interventions using a strengths based approach. I propose the following six inherent strengths of children with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. 

  1. Elasticity: the ability to adapt 
  2. Desire to make social connections
  3. Inherent ability for growth
  4. Individuality: each child has individual interests and motivations
  5. Natural supports: family, faith community, and anyone invested in the child's success
  6. Resiliency: the ability to recover from setbacks

A strengths based approach can be reflected in the language used by the constellation of professionals and informal caregivers supporting your child, and this learned optimism will begin to transform the way that you and your child view growth and progress. A study by Shirvani (2007) found that positive teacher communication improved both students performance and parents attitudes. The growth you are working towards can be scaffolded by acceptance, support, and an unwaivering belief in your child's innate capabilities.

Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers withPervasive Developmental DisorderAsperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut.