Have Success With Social Learning

As school gets back into swing, speech-language pathologist Elizabeth Sautter says there’s a set of skills that are just as critical for children’s future success as academic ones: social learning. Sautter is the author of a recently published book for parents,Make Social Learning Stick(AAPC Publishing, 2014), as well as co-director of Communication Works in Oakland. The center, a 2014 Bronzewinner for special needs services in Bay Area Parent’s annual Family Favorites poll, offers individual speech, occupational and executive functioning therapy, as well as small group therapy in social communication and self-regulation skills.   Sautter is also co-author of two children’s books, Whole Body Listening Larry at Home and Whole Body Listening Larry at School (Social Thinking Publishing, 2011). For more information, visit www.cwtherapy.com or www.makesociallearningstick.com.  

What is social learning? Social learning is a person’s ability to master the skills we need to have for good relationships with others and to succeed in social situations including school, work and friendships.  

What are some of those skills? They include being able to manage your own emotions; focusing and attending to different situations and people; understanding social rules, non-verbal cues and expressions; understanding someone else’s perspective and stepping in someone else’s shoes; understanding messages being received from others and using words and non-verbal cues to express yourself.

Why are they important? These are the things that help our children navigate their social worlds, be able to transition and calm down and focus, be able to advocate for themselves and ask for help, and feel confident in social and academic situations. These skills are much more important than even test scores and academics for success in life.

Do parents need to work with all kids on these skills, or does it come naturally for some?   All parents need to be aware of what’s involved and the importance of it. … Most kids learn this innately by imitation and watching others, but it’s very complex. Then there are kids who struggle more, whether they’re wired differently or have a diagnosis of autism or ADHD, or have speech issues or anxiety. A lot of times, they get labeled in certain ways: “That’s a loner kid or a disruptive kid.” We try to make it known that if kids could do well, they would do well.   And most children, whether they have a deficit in this area or not, need to know how to join in a group or learn to play a game or manage children who are not being friendly to them.  

How can parents help? My book is written to inspire parents and not make more work for them, by simply using their natural environment and daily routines. The sections include home, community, and special events and holidays. For starting the day, for instance, you can help your child plan his or her day. Do some priming and talk about what’s expected. “Here’s Plan A. There might be a Plan B. If it’s raining, we won’t go to the park.” Have your child look outside and see what the weather is like when choosing his clothes. Watch TV programs and pause the TV at certain times, trying to guess what characters may be thinking and feeling based on their facial expressions and non-verbal clues. You can do it with books, too, or people watching. In the car, we can do a lot of priming: “We’re going to go to Johnny’s birthday party, and it’s a LEGO party. This is what’s expected.” Set them up for success. Knowing what’s expected makes us feel comfortable.

Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.

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