CINCINNATI—The start of school can be an exciting time for young children, full of opportunities to learn and make friends. But if a child doesn’t understand common social skills or cues, school can quickly become a confusing and stressful place instead.
"So many social things happen in school, not just in the classroom, but in the hallways and during recess. All those places become difficult for children who have social or language impairments,” says speech language pathologist Lesley Raisor-Becker, PhD. "They may start to feel anxious in social situations and avoid interacting with their peers.”
Such children may benefit from direct training on social skills—training that Raisor-Becker hopes to offer in a new group for young children starting this fall.
A visiting assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, Raisor-Becker will launch the Social Skills Enrichment Group Sept. 30 for children ages 4-6 at UC’s Speech, Language, and Hearing Clinic. The clinic is located at UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences and provides screening, diagnostic evaluations, and a full range of treatment for children and adults with speech, language and hearing disorders.
Social Skills Enrichment Group sessions will be structured similar to a preschool environment, with various activities designed to help children learn the "script” for social situations.
"For example, students can learn how to say hello and introduce themselves when they come into a room,” says Raisor-Becker, "and learn how to come into a circle in class and sit down to listen. Those things may seem pretty easy, but some children have some difficulty knowing how to navigate those events.”
She says it is a misconception that only children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder may benefit from participating in a social skills intervention. Instead, many children (with or without a specific diagnosis) may be able to gain valuable interaction skills that will help them be successful in school by taking part in a social skills group.
Sessions are led by speech language pathology graduate students and supervised by communication sciences and disorders faculty members who are licensed and certified speech-language pathologists. As part of the class, Raisor-Becker will extend a pilot project from this summer’s language and literacy enrichment class—using a therapy dog to calm children and increase their communication skills.
During the summer, Raisor-Becker says group leaders found that children who had issues with social development were specifically drawn to the dog.
Starting Sept. 30, the class will run for 10 weeks on Monday evenings from 4 to 5:15 p.m. at UC’s French East building, 3202 Eden Ave. If there is sufficient interest, clinic organizers say they may be able to open an additional session.