Working on social skills in a high tech world

Date: 16th July 2014

Posted on: 16-07-2014

Therapists working in a variety of settings with a range of clients work on social skills. Social skills are important for people to be able to make new friends, get on with their classmates or work colleagues, maintain family relationships and get on in the world. Therapists might work with younger clients who have not yet developed social skills or with adults who have difficulty with social skills after a stroke or traumatic brain injury. 


In the fast moving world we live in, therapists have adapted their tools for working on social skills. We need to consider working with modern means of communication.


Think about all the ways you communicate in a day besides face-to-face conversations – email, SMS, facebook, twitter, instagram. Each of these online means of communication require us to apply social communication “rules” such as checking you don’t forward an email to the wrong person; not adding a “x” at the end of an SMS to a colleague, uploading content to twitter or instagram that you are prepared for your “audience” to see or read. 


The above rules can be a real challenge for people with social skill difficulties to understand or to apply.  Here are some suggestions on tasks which might help work on these essential social communication tasks:


1. Reading between the lines – SMS


An SMS, or text message, is generally a couple of words or a couple of lines long. The sender may just provide the essential information, leaving out words they deem unneccesary. SMS messages often require the receiver to infer. Inference can be difficult! 


A fun task is to come up with a range of ambiguous SMS messages, and have the student work out the intention of the message.  By adding multiple choice answer options, the student can talk through their choice making. 


e.g. What does the sender mean here “See you in 10” – a) see you at 10am b) see you in 10 minutes c) see you on 10th July


2. Adjusting your email to suit your audience


We all know not to add smiley faces or to sign off with a kiss when emailing a colleague or sending a formal email. Likewise it would be strange to address an email to a close friend, to arrange lunch, with Dear Sir/Madam. Working on composing emails to a range of recipients is a great task to increase awareness of the need to adjust the style of language and the content of emails. This can either be a hypothetical task or if possible for the client to work on actual emails they need to send or reply to. 


3. Using social media – do you want your mum to see this?


Now, the challenge for a lot of people (not just people with difficulty with the nuances of social communication) is filtering what information is shared on facebook, twitter or instagram. I’m sure many of you have seen your news feed and doubted that the post a contact has made was appropriate to be shared. We all set our own boundaries. This can be tricky if you have social communication disabilities. How do you know which photos, news pieces, angry rants or comments are what you want to share with your online community. Sessions looking at scenarios or actual posts are a useful way to discuss this.


e.g. If you worked with an adult client you might go through posts they’ve made, or use hypothetical posts/images “If you wanted to share a picture of you drinking with your friends, who would be able to see this?” Taking the client through their contact list and the reach it has if a valuable task to raise insight and awareness. 


Therapists need to incorporate technology in their sessions. Communication goes beyong 1:1 and face-to-face in 2014. We all spend a great deal of time online, and the ability to communicate in this space is essential.


Publication of this blog does not mean endorsement by ASLTIP


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