This week, in continuing the spirit of Autism Awareness, we’re excited to feature a two-part expert article on a social problem-solving intervention method by Steven Gordon, PhD, ABPP, and Michael Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D, who are the founder and directors of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A. Here in Part I, Drs. Gordon and Selbst have addressed the outcomes of different types of social skills training and what an effective social skills teaching program encompasses in order to promote independence in learners.
The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Independence – Part I
Steven B. Gordon, PhD, ABPP & Michael C. Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D
Students with social skills deficits often have difficulty in many of the following areas: sharing, handling frustration, controlling their temper, ending arguments, responding to bullying and teasing, making friends, and complying with requests.
These impairments require direct instruction to address the deficits. In addition, these impairments are exacerbated for those with a mental health diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Nonverbal Learning Disorder.
A large body of research indicates that social skills training produces short and long term positive outcomes. The improvement in social skills has many benefits: an increase in students’ positive behavior, reduction in negative behavior, improvements in academic performance, more positive attitudes toward school, and increase preparation for success in adulthood.
Social skills learning programs have yielded significant benefits in many studies conducted to date. “The ultimate goal of a social skills program is to teach the interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills that students need relative to interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict resolution interactions. In a generic sense, then, students with good social skills are unlikely to engage in inappropriate internalizing or externalizing behaviors” (Knoff, 2014). In one important meta-analysis by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), it was concluded that social and emotional programs are effective in both school and after-school settings, for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems, for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings across the K-12 grade range.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) interventions improve students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, and increase positive social behavior while reducing conduct problems and emotional distress. CASEL’s review also indicates that school-based programs are most effectively conducted by school staff (e.g., teachers, student support staff) and suggest that they can be effectively incorporated into routine educational practice. In light of CASEL’s positive findings, it has recommend that federal, state, and local policies and practices encourage the broad implementation of well-designed, evidence-based social and emotional programs in schools.
Many social skills teaching approaches conceptualize social skills as a set of narrow, discrete responses (e.g., initiating a greeting) or as a broader set of skills associated with social problem solving. This approach results in the generation of an endless list of discrete skills that are assessed for their presence/absence and are then targeted for intervention.
Knoff (2014) states that “an effective social skills program”:
- is based on a social learning theory model that uses teaching, modeling, role-playing, providing performance feedback, and an active focus on the transfer of training across time, setting, people, places, and circumstances for instruction;
- uses a core (universal) language that facilitates cognitive behavioral scripting and mediation, and conditions self-control and self-managed behavior;
- is explicit and developmentally appropriate, yet flexible and adaptive to students’ individual language levels, cultures, maturational levels, and needs;
- provides a defined, progressive, yet flexible, sequence of social skills that recognizes that some prerequisite skills must be mastered before more complex skills are taught;
- employs an evidence-based pedagogical approach to instruction that sequences instruction, application, and teachable moments;
- was designed for implementation by regular classroom teachers as the primary instructors;
- and has been demonstrated to be acceptable, socially valid, and easily implemented with treatment integrity” (p. 8).
The POWER-Solving® Curriculum (Selbst and Gordon, 2012), which includes all the points identified by Knoff (2014) above, focuses on teaching a social problem solving model that the learner would be able to use as a “tool box.” The social problem solving approach offers the promise of helping the individual to become a better problem solver, thereby promoting greater independence in social situations and throughout life. Instead of teaching an ever-expanding set of individual skills, the POWER-Solving® Curriculum uses a model of social problem solving that incorporates five steps, easily learned as the acronym POWER. These five steps consist of the following:
- Put the problem into words;
- Observe your feelings;
- Work out your goal;
- Explore possible solutions;
- Review your plan
The goal of this curriculum is that students will learn valuable POWER-Solving skills that they can apply to an infinite number of social situations throughout their lives. The POWER-Solving® Curriculum has been successfully implemented in public and private schools, clinic setting, summer social skills programs and has been presented at local, state and national conferences.
Knoff, H.M. (2014). Implementing project ACHIEVE at the school and district levels:
Positive Bbehavioral support system (PBSS) implementation fact sheet. Little Rock, AR: Project ACHIEVE Press.
Selbst, M.C. and Gordon, S.B. (2012). POWER-Solving: Stepping stones to solving life’s everyday social problems. Somerset, NJ: Behavior Therapy Associates.
ABOUT STEVEN B. GORDON, PHD, ABPP
Steven B. Gordon, PhD, ABPP is the Founder and Executive Director of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A. He is a clinical psychologist and is licensed in New Jersey. Dr. Gordon is also Board Certified in Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology and is a Diplomate in Behavior Therapy from the American Board of Behavioral Psychology. Dr. Gordon has co-authored three books, published numerous articles, presented papers at local and national conferences, and served on editorial boards of professional journals. Most recently, Dr. Gordon and Dr. Selbst have co-authored the new social-emotional skills program POWER-Solving: Stepping Stones to Solving Life’s Everyday Social Problems. Dr. Gordon’s professional interests range from providing assessment and treatment for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, AD/HD and other disruptive behavior disorders associated with childhood and adolescence. He has co-founded and is the Executive Director of HI-STEP® Summer Program, which is an intensive five-week day program for children to improve their social skills and problem solving ability. In addition, Dr. Gordon has had extensive experience providing clinical services not only for children diagnosed with phobias, stress, selective mutism, obsessive compulsive disorders and depression, but also with adults coping with anxiety,depression and relationship difficulties. Dr. Gordon is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the New Jersey Psychological Association.
ABOUT MICHAEL C. SELBST, PHD, BCBA-D
Michael C. Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D is Director of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A. He is a Licensed Psychologist and a Certified School Psychologist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the Doctoral level. Dr. Selbst has co-founded and is the Executive Director of HI-STEP® Summer Program, which is an intensive five-week day program for children to improve their social skills and problem solving ability, and the Director of the Weekend to Improve Social Effectiveness (W.I.S.E.). He has extensive experience working with pre-school aged children through adults, including individuals who have social skills deficits, emotional and behavioral difficulties, learning disabilities, gifted, and children with developmental delays, including those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Dr. Selbst consults to numerous public and private schools, assisting parents, teachers, and mental health professionals, and presents workshops on all topics highlighted above, as well as Parenting Strategies, Depression, and Suicide Prevention. Dr. Selbst and Dr. Gordon have co-authored the new social-emotional skills program POWER-Solving: Stepping Stones to Solving Life’s Everyday Social Problems. Dr. Selbst is a member of the following professional organizations: American Psychological Association; National Association of School Psychologists; Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; Association for Behavior Analysis International; Association for Contextual Behavioral Science; New Jersey Psychological Association; and New Jersey Association of School Psychologists.