New Social Skills Group

NOTE: The ABC program is now The University of Memphis Autism Treatment, Training and Research Clinic

by Kacey Brown

Social Skills GroupA new Social Skills Group was started this fall at the Memphis Speech and Hearing Center by Clinical Assistant Professor JoClaire Merrill. The Social Skills Group was developed after two of Merrill's clients from the Autism Behavior and Communication (ABC) program moved into inclusive school settings. These young clients practice and strengthen social skills such as turn taking, initiating interaction, and responding to their peers. "Clients learn to observe social situations more carefully and understand that behaviors are linked to one's own and others' emotions," observed graduate clinician, Mona Ali. Children between the ages of nearly 5- to 7-years old cover topics such as introducing oneself, whole body listening, recognizing and dealing with emotions, using "nice talk," and asking for help.

Graduate clinicians, under Merrill's supervision, structure the sessions with explicit teaching and modeling, and by practicing Social Skills Grouptargeted social skills. "It's never dull!" states Kiera Wallenborn, second year SLP student, "[the kids] are happy to be there and we are happy to be guiding and teaching them." A bonus for graduate clinicians is JoClaire Merrill's guidance, as Rachel Butler (2nd year SLP) reflected, "I have developed as a clinician; JoClaire has been amazing to work with, and I've learned so much about stepping out of my comfort zone."

Merrill explains that individuals with autism spectrum disorders or social pragmatic communication disorders often require systematic instruction in social skills. Individuals with these disorders often have typical expressive and receptive language abilities, but impaired social pragmatic skills. The Social Skills Group is an option for children who do not typically qualify for services in schools. A reflection by Mona Ali seems to sum it up: "I've truly enjoyed watching the clients build friendships with one another." The group offers an individualized and hands-on experience for each group member.