Friday, April 10, 2009

Social Skills Builder: My Community

Many of you know that my son Jack has autism. One of the biggest ways in which his autism manifests itself is that he has big deficits in his social skills.

Among other things, Jack will either talk too softly, not answer questions, or wait for someone else to communicate for him. Sometimes he stands too close to other people—today, while waiting in line for something, he rested his chin on the kid in front of him. He doesn't seem to understand how to interact with his peers—and much of society around him.

We are working a lot with him to help teach him these skills. He has therapy and social skills groups, and a staff at his school that knows to teach him these things. But one thing we hadn't tried until now was social skills software.

That's where Social Skills Builder's My Community software comes in. The Parent Bloggers Network offered me an opportunity to review this, and I jumped at the chance. Jack loves video games, he loves gadgets, and he loves the computer. So what better way to teach him some basic social skills?

The software is aimed at children from ages 5-15, so at almost 6, Jack is on the young end of the scale. And some of the software was too hard for him. But the great thing is that it lets the child choose what level, from one to five, he or she wants to play. Each level presents the information and asks for answers in a different way. After our first session, we stuck to levels one, two, and three.

The basic premise is that kids can choose an area to learn about: the movie theater, a friend's house, the doctor's office, the grocery store, the car, and several others. Then level one uses short videos to teach what sorts of behaviors are correct and incorrect in these settings.

Once the child goes through those videos, level two replays the videos and offers a multiple choice question to answer. I took the photo at right on Jack's first attempt on the movie theatre section. He learned that the ticket seller doesn't need to know that this is your favorite movie. We have some work to do.

The software also features options to track your child's progress, which I think is a really nice addition. Not only so you can see how your kid is doing, but so he or she can also see improvements.

Jack really enjoyed this game. He caught on to it very quickly, although he did have difficulty answering the questions. Which just shows that he needs to learn more in these areas. Each time we've played it since we've gotten it, he's gotten better.

His 7-year-old typical brother badly wanted to play too, so Jack got to teach him how to do it. They both had fun, and honestly, I think learning these basic social rules will be good for both of them. For instance, Jack's brother learned all about the etiquette of how to behave at a friend's house, which can only be good for him.

I think if you have a child who responds well to computers, but not so much to real people, this might be a very effective way to teach him "the rules" of social interaction. This software won't do it all; parents, therapists, and educators will still need to teach the children how to implement these rules in the real world. But this can form a solid foundation in the child's memory banks for what to do.

Social Skills Builder offers several other software options, including options for preschoolers and for teaching about how to behave in school. Social Skills Builder: My Community sells for $89.99. It is both Mac and PC-compatible.