Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Learning By Example With Social Skill Builders

As many of you know, Cordy was evaluated for developmental delays when she was three and I was informed that she was likely on the spectrum for autism disorders. Most likely PDD-NOS is what we were told by the school psychologist. She's had a year and a half of special needs preschool now, and thankfully she's made tremendous progress. Her sensory sensitivities are no longer debilitating and she is a little more aware of the social world around her. Instead of looking right through people, she recognizes them and even interacts with them.

But when it comes to knowing the right way to behave in particular situations, she often has trouble understanding the rules of social behavior. Her social skills are still better than they were, but she has a long way to go before the risk of causing a disruption in a new environment is minimized.

Parent Bloggers invited me to try out a social skills software called My Community, made by Social Skill Builders. The software is aimed at children 5-15 years old, and although Cordy isn't five yet, she's only five months away from it. The goal of this software is to teach children about appropriate social behavior, interactions, expectations and safety precautions in several common areas of social interaction, like the doctor's office, the car, and a restaurant.

There are five levels in this software. The very basic level allows children to select an area of town and view videos modeling appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, with an explanation of what was correct and incorrect given at the end of each video. Level 2 asks the player to answer basic multiple choice questions about what they see. Level 3 asks them to look for visual cues to social behaviors. Level 4 involves matching thoughts or feelings to those they see in the photos or video. And Level 5 asks the player to anticpate and predict the correct responses to situations.

I showed the game to Cordy and we went through Level 1 and Level 2 together. She had trouble focusing on Level 1 because she wasn't asked to do anything, but on Level 2 she was willing to make an effort at answering questions. She loved that each correct answer gave her a little lit-up icon below the video player - she especially enjoyed "earning" ice cream cones in the restaurant section! After you answer a certain number of questions, you get to play a mini-game - in our case, Cordy insisted that I play the mini-game while she cheered me on.

Cordy has a very short attention span at this point, but she did focus on the videos for short periods. For her, it's easier to come back to it a few times a day for a few minutes each, which isn't a problem because each user creates their own profile and their progress is saved to that profile.

I played the other levels, and I like how all aspects of social skills are covered, from reading body langauge, understanding feelings, and predicting responses. I'll admit that even I didn't get every question correct.

I see a lot of future use for us with this software. As she gets older, she'll be able to tackle the higher levels and pick up on the finer points of social skills. And I don't think your child needs to have autism to use this video. Many of the scenes showed typical thoughtless kid behavior (taking things from others, bugging mom in the car, refusing to share, etc.) and then modeled proper behavior in each situation. I'd guess many children would learn something from this software. There's a free demo to view on the website if you're curious about if this would be a good product for your child.

Overall I really like My Community by Social Skill Builders. The videos provide excellent social behavior demonstrations without looking over-the-top, and the interactive features of the software keep a child engaged in learning proper social skills.

Stay tuned as I'll be reviewing Preschool Playtime Vol. 2, another product by Social Skill Builders, in a few weeks!

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