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iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch Apps to Teach Kids Social Skills

As a licensed clinical social worker, I have worked with hundreds of kids and teenagers since 1994. For many, social skills do not simply come Child with iPadnaturally; they need to be taught, just as they need to be taught spelling, reading, mathematics, social studies, and science. Kids with ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders often find learning social skills to be especially challenging.

Throughout time, kids have learned through play. Kids as young as one year use pretend play to learn about their world. And, as any kid will gladly tell you, kids like to learn when we make it fun for them. When I was growing up, video games were emerging, but now the tiniest little ones can be observed effortlessly playing with their moms and dads’ iPhone, iTouch, and iPad.

Since the kids are interested anyway, why not teach them something while they play? There are many apps that teach kids social skills in a non-threatening, engaging manner.

The following is a list of some apps to help children with social skills:

1. Model Me Going Places– Free is a visual teaching tool to help children navigate common challenging locations in their community. Each location incorporates a photo slide show of children modeling appropriate beahvior. Locations include: hair salon, mall doctor, playground, grocery store, and restaurant.

2. Responding Social Skills– $0.99 teaches how to listen and respond to others, give directions, understand others’ feelings and perspective-taking.

3. Initiating Social Skills– $0.99 includes practice in greetings, starting conversations, giving information, and introducing oneself.

4. Everyday Social Skills– $0.99 Teaches basic social skills needed for everyday activities in the child’s community, including common activities like walking down the street, using a public restroom, waiting in line, asking for directions, asking for information, and joining a group.

5. Personal Social Skills– $0.99 Teaches responsibility, dependability, accepting consequences, maintaining personal hygiene, grooming, dressing, and more.

6. Hidden Curriculum for Kids– $1.99 Real-life scenarios spur conversations about the many unwritten social rules that we encounter daily that can often cause confusion and anxiety for those who cannot read these cues well.

7. Small Talk App– Presents conversation fillers for those awkward social moments, allowing users to choose between conversation: starters, jokes, factoids, “would you rather” questions, etc.

8. Look in my eyes– There are a series of apps that address eye contact as a social skill. Choose one of high-interest to the child: restaurant, car mechanic, undersea, dinosaurs, etc.

9. How would you feel if…–  Allows children to discuss their feelings about a variety of situations to promote emotion awareness.

10. Eye contact toybox app–  Helps kids practice eye contact while earning fun rewards.

11. Body language app–  Offers full-body illustrations of body language to help kids become aware of gestures, postures, handshakes, and other body cues.

12. Conversation Builder– Teaches elementary-aged children how to have multi-exchange conversations with their peers in a variety of social settings.

13. Social Skills– $6.99;  Offers social stories complete with photographs and sound to help children with social skills such as: attention, non-verbal communication, greetings, structured game play, turn-taking, imitation, and classroom rules. For the iPod Touch, one will need an external microphone to record the sound.

14. Super Duper What Are They Thinking?– Children can listen to 180 entertaining “thoughts” or answer “what are they thinking?” questions to teach perspective taking.

15. Stories2Learn– $13.99 Offers social stories that can be personalized using photos, writing, and audio messages. This allows stories to be created that show targeted social cues.

New apps are added frequently and as this industry grows, we will update you with the latest technology and apps.

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*North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Inc. (NSPT) intends for responses to the blogs to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; all content and answers to questions should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).  Questions submitted to this blog are not guaranteed to receive responses.  No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by NSPT  to people submitting questions.  Always consult with your health professional first before initiating or changing any aspect of your treatment regimen.

Turn-Taking and Language Development

Turn-taking is a foundation for speech and language development. Think of language as a back-and-forth exchange system: one person talks while the other listens, and vice versa. The ability to understand and demonstrate turn-taking is a critical step in building speech and language skills in children. It’s the framework for which children will ultimately use their growing speech and language skills. Here are 7 ways parents can promote turn-taking skills in children:

Ways to promote turn-taking skills

  • Play a turn-taking game. Choose an age-appropriate turn-taking game (e.g. Barn Yarn Bingo), and guide your child while you each take turns. Give your child hand-over-hand assistance as needed, and verbalize whose turn it is (e.g. “Mommy’s turn!” or 2 kids taking turns“Your turn!”). Taking turns might feel very challenging and unfamiliar to young children, so be sure to make it a positive experience, and give your child lots of positive praise as they participate.
  • Pass a ball back and forth. Encourage your child to pass the ball to you, by reaching out your arms and asking for the ball. Encourage your child to get ready as you pass the ball back to them. Rolling a ball back and forth mirrors the reciprocal interaction that occurs during verbal communication.
  • Share a toy. Encourage your child to take turns while playing with their toy. Prompt them to give you a turn (e.g. “Mommy’s turn”), and give your child lots of praise when they share. Try to keep turns short and consistent, so your child sees that they will get their turn again quickly.
  • Imitate your child. Imitation is a critical part of language development, and an excellent context for turn-taking routines. Imitate your child’s actions in a fun and playful way. For example, if your child covers their mouth, cover your mouth too. You might imitate speech sounds, gestures, or actions. Imitation games involve listening, watching, anticipating, and repeating: all of which require turn-taking.
  • Create anticipation. Engage your child in routine games that create anticipation. For example, you might play peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, sing songs, or read familiar books with repetitive phrases. During activities, pause and allow your child to anticipate what comes next.
  • Wait for your child to respond. Show your child that you’re eager to hear their ideas, by actively listening. Lean in close, and give your child attention through eye contact and eager facial expressions. Most importantly, give your child ample time to respond by simply waiting.
  • Talk about “talking-turns”. For older children, introduce the concept of “talking turns”. Encourage your child to let other people have their talking turn, and wait for their own turn to talk. You might even narrate this (e.g. “It’s mom’s talking turn right now” or “Now it’s your talking turn!”).

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How Social Groups Can Help Your Child Navigate Friendships

Making friends involves an array of complex skills, from taking turns, to initiating interactions, considering others’ perspectives, negotiating, problem-solving, repairingKids Group communication breakdowns, and being flexible. For many children, these skills can be incredibly challenging, often resulting in difficulty with making friends.

What are the benefits of social groups?

Social groups are designed to help children develop and practice social skills in a supportive therapeutic setting. Many children lack the necessary skills to navigate peer relationships. Social group therapy directly teaches and practices any specific social skills a child may be struggling with. For example, research has documented that children with language-impairments often have difficulty verbally initiating peer interactions. Research has also well-documented that social group therapy can increase verbal initiation for children with language impairments. Social groups have also been found to improve skills such as:

• Greetings

• Nonverbal communication (e.g. understanding facial expressions)

• Turn-taking

• Cooperative play

• Dealing with confrontation and rejection

• Flexibility and sharing

• Initiating and joining in play

• Building confidence with peers

• Listening to others

• Problem-solving and negotiation

• Verbally communicating with peers

Should my child attend a social group?

Your child should attend a social group if you have any concerns with their ability to interact with peers. Additionally, social groups can also be a proactive way to prepare your child for social settings ahead of time. For example, a “kindergarten-readiness group” is an excellent way to encourage your child’s social skills prior to the first day of school.

Here are a few indicators that your child may benefit from a social group:

• Your child’s teacher often reports difficulties interacting with peers at school

• Your child seems to avoid interacting with other children

• You notice frequent conflicts during play dates or interactions with other kids

• Your child feels afraid or refuses to attend social gatherings (e.g. play-dates, birthday parties)

• Your child has difficulty being flexible during play activities (e.g. sharing others’ ideas, winning or loosing)

• Your child has difficulty joining in play or initiating interactions with other kids

• Your child uses physical actions instead of words to communicate with others (e.g. grabs a toy instead of asking, pushes others instead of verbalizing how they feel)

• Your child has had less opportunities to interact with age-matched peers

Last but not least, trust your intuition. If you are worried about your child’s ability to navigate friendships, then consider signing your child up for a social group. Contact a licensed therapist with questions or concerns to gain more information about whether or not your child may benefit from social group therapy. Social groups can also be an excellent way to prepare your child for school or camp ahead of time.

What is the next step?

If you think your child may benefit from a social group, contact our Family Child Advocate who can answer your questions and connect you with a licensed therapist. For more information, click the Social Skills button below:

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5 Tips For Improving Your Child’s Language And Social Skills During Your Everyday Routine

When it comes to improving language and social skills, and evolving cognitive behavior in children, it is natural that a Young Boy Reaching For Toybehavior analyst will  look for environmental variables that may impact behaviors that influence these areas of learning. There are various studies  showing that children’s early life experiences can play an important role in language development. There are also various educational models that result in improvement in language and other cognitive and social skills. However, there is also evidence  suggesting that any gains or advantages can diminish over time, especially in children of poor and working-class families.

Through their book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (1995), Hart and Risley found that the quality and frequency of speech between parents and infants (6 to 8 months of age) have a direct impact on their vocabularies. They were also able to teach parents at home, and on the job to say more to their children and be more reinforcing (as opposed to primitive and discouraging in nature) when their children imitated and took notice to their examples.

The following are some strategies that can assist you in improving your child’s verbal and overall social skills.

Tips For Finding Everyday Moments To Teach Verbal And Social Skills

Identify a few learning goals that you want to focus on with your child (e.g. establishing eye contact, asking for a preferred item, etc.)

  • To start out with, it may be helpful to choose some activities in which to focus on (e.g. looking at your child’s favorite book, playing with a preferred toy)

Look and plan for “Teachable moments”

  • Can include daily routines (e.g. meals, playtime, car trips, getting dressed, watching TV, etc)
  • Take time to plan your events (e.g. During a community outing you can work on one word exchanges with others, gross motor imitation, or eye contact). This may help eliminate trying to think of what to do while you are in the middle of doing it.

Pay attention to what your child wants. The best “teachable moment” is when your child wants something (e.g. food, toy, attention, a break, etc)

  • Let your child select the activity
  • Let your child initiate the interaction by requesting assistance from the adult
  • Requests can be verbal and nonverbal e.g. calling your name, crying, stretching for an object, asking for food, play material, or information

The “teachable moment” should be just that – a moment. Keep it brief and enjoyable. If it goes too long it may become unpleasant to the child. In this case stop and go on to another activity.

Start small and set a goal – “Today I will look for 3 “teachable moments”

  • As you get used to this it will start to feel more natural and you can increase your goal
  • Keep planning to make sure you are reaching your goals