I have been coordinating the Social Adventures Group Program at Children’s Therapy Associates in Natick, MA for nearly 15 years. As coordinator, I have spoken with hundreds of families looking for support for their children with social challenges. While some of these children have ASD diagnoses, others have been diagnosed with ADHD, NLD, or social anxiety. Most of the children we serve struggle socially in spite of relatively intact receptive and expressive language abilities. These kids (ages 3-10) learn best by doing. When asked, they can usually tell you what they are supposed to do in a given situation, but they aren’t accessing that knowledge “in the moment.” In response, we have developed a strategy that we have found to be incredibly effective: Social Catch Phrases.
Over the years, as I have talked to parents, several common areas of challenge have surfaced. The areas that they feel are most disruptive to their child’s social success revolve around:
- Poor initiation skills
- Reduced reciprocity
- Being inflexible / bossy
- Difficulty managing change/ frustration
- Not tuning into nonverbal cues
- Poor body space awareness
- Being too literal/ misinterpreting feedback from friends
For each of these areas of difficulty, we have developed Social Catch Phrases along with activities to introduce and practice them. One of the catch phrases that we use in each and every group is Let Them Know. We have found that many, many, many of the kids we see tend to only respond to peers if the topic somehow relates to them (and even that is iffy). They either respond with “I … “ or they simply stare blankly (or are completely distracted by something else entirely). As social interaction is built on reciprocity, we spend quite a bit of group time reinforcing the importance of letting friends know we are listening. We role play what it looks like when kids don’t respond and when they do; we play games which give kids a chance to practice a variety of responses from a simple nod to an enthusiastic, “wow!” to asking a probing question; and then, we use the catch phrase as a prompt “in the moment” during less-structured activities to support generalization. For our 9 most popular phrases, we have developed adorable cartoons, like this one:
Not only are these catch phrases and cartoons helpful within the context of group, but parents have consistently told us how helpful they are at home and in the community. They also tell us that they use them to facilitate a consistent approach among school staff and others in the child’s life.
As we, and the parents we work with, have found this approach to be so meaningful, we wanted to make the Catch Phrases (as well as the activities we have found most successful for teaching them) available to other therapists, teachers and parents. We have begun to do so with our Social Adventures app. We chose to provide this information in the form of an app so that we could continually add new information to it. The app currently includes more than 44 activities for improving social skills, many of which have accompanying Catch Phrases, as well as a Sample 8-week Program and easy access to our 9 cute cartoons. For those of you who like to introduce new concepts through literature, we have also written short poetic stories to introduce each of the 9 cartoons. You can read a sample here.
by Karen S Head, MS, CCC-SLP
If you like these ideas, be sure to check out the nearly 80 activity ideas for promoting social cognition in our Social Adventures Apps.