Improving Social Skills in Children with ADHD
When I started to realize that my son’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was having an impact on his social interactions, I considered social skills group therapy as a solution. Social skills group therapy helps children with ADHD or a disorder on the autism spectrum learn and practice social skills with other children.
I live in Northern California, right next to Berkeley, so I figured it would be easy to find a group. You can’t throw a stone in Berkeley without hitting a therapist of some kind. But you could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized that there were only a couple of these groups in my area, and they met too far away from us to make using them feasible.
I read a few books, which gave me some ideas such as role-playing with him, to practice the correct interactions. But unfortunately my son just found role-playing kind of dumb, maybe because he was role-playing with me instead of another child. I was beginning to run out of methods.
One of the behaviors I was most concerned about was one I saw frequently when my son had play dates at our house. Our visitor would be ask him how to play with a toy or a video game. My son would get impatient and “show” his friend how to do something instead of explaining how to do it by grabbing the item out of the other child’s hand - and he usually didn’t give it back without my intervention.
Of course I had told him over and over (and over) that he should never grab something out of someone else’s hands, that taking turns was the only way that everyone could have fun, and that doing something for someone was not the same as showing them how to do it (or pretending that you’re showing them when you’re really getting more time for yourself). Talk about falling on deaf ears. Nothing I said to him made any difference.
Finally, in one of my internet searches about “social skills therapy” and “ADHD child social skills,” I ran across a company called Social Skill Builder, which produces several different software programs that help children improve their social skills. The software is geared toward children on the autism spectrum and other children with special needs.
When I perused the website, I found a lot of information that told me I was in the right place. Do any of these sound like skills you want your child with ADHD to improve upon?
- Wait for turn
- Social strategies dealing with frustration
- Talking too much/verbosity
- Listen to others
- Play/work cooperatively
- Stay on topic
Yup, me too. These are just a few of the 103 behaviors that the Social Skill Builder software targets. Their catalog of software includes: PreSchool Playtime, My School Day, My Community, School Rules and Social Detective. I decided to try out “My Community,” which focuses more on situations your child will encounter outside school (remember, I was concerned about his behavior on playdates) than at school.
The main menu of My Community is a colorful town map:
As you can see, a wide range of social situations is covered, such as Friend’s House, Car Ride, Movie Theater, Street Safety, Grocery Store, etc.
The Social Skills Software employs video modeling, which shows the player both good and bad behavior using videos of children in a variety of situations. After each (short) video clip is an explanation of what about the behavior in the clip was correct and incorrect. There are five levels that use increasingly more complex methods of answering the questions. For instance, on Level 2 the player answers multiple choice questions, while on Level 3 the questions are answered by looking for visual cues to the behavior. After each set of questions is a mini-game as a reward (and as a break).
You can track your child’s progress (or track progress for multiple users). You can use the pre-made lesson plans or customize your own. I love that you can customize your own lesson plan. For instance, in the Friend’s House situation, I skipped the “Appropriate Door Greeting” and “Inappropriate Door Greeting,” because I wanted my son to focus entirely on videos that model appropriate play and taking turns.
When I told my son that we had some new educational software for him to try out, of course he was less than enthusiastic. I really have to think of another way to describe educational software. Luckily, once he started playing with My Community, he became interested in it. In fact, I had told him that I wanted him to do it for an hour, and he played for another hour beyond that voluntarily.
In my experience, Social Skill Builder was most effective in the way it holds a mirror up for children with ADHD. I talked to my son after he used the program and I asked him about the videos that showed one boy grabbing a game controller from his friend’s hands and getting impatient when he was waiting for his turn. I asked what he thought about seeing that in relation to similar behavior I’d pointed out to him in the past, and he it “looks pretty bad.” I thought it was interesting that he used the word “look.” Seeing the behavior in someone else when he was watching instead of experiencing the situation seemed to have more of an impact.
Sure enough, while his “grabby” behavior didn’t go away entirely, I’d say that now he’s patient about waiting his turn and explaining how to do something by using his words instead of his hands nearly every time.
Social Skills Builder software is a very useful tool for parents, as most of us with ADHD children don’t have any knowledge of therapeutic methods. The price tag ($69.99-89.99 per program) may seem steep. However, given the cost of therapy, it’s a good tool for parents like me who are unable to find social skills therapy in their area, or those parents who can’t afford in-person therapy.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.