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Sarah Davison, SLP, Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition program

Sarah Davison, SLP, Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition program

In attempting to build independent lives, a major stumbling block for many young adults with Asperger Syndrome, high functioning autism, or other social disability is a lack of confidence, or competence, in their ability to navigate the world socially.

Chapel Haven’s speech-language pathologists, including Sarah Davison and Ryan Shoemaker, talk in this article about why Social Communicative Competency is such a building block for success in the adult world.

“Social communicative competency (SCC) is at the core of the disability for students with As-perger’s,” notes Virginia Hodge, Executive Vice President of Autism Programs at Chapel Haven, and a certified speech/language pathologist. “A student who can’t cook dinner can still get take-out food. But a student who can’t interact socially will see an effect in every part of his or her life.”

Instruction and coaching in social communicative competency can help students learn how to in-terpret facial expressions and gestures, engage in reciprocal conversations, and appreciate another per-son’s point of view. Students can learn, through role-playing, videotaping, and continual practice, how to pick up the phone to make social plans, call a professor to arrange for extra help, or interview for a job effectively. Students can learn to modulate speech clarity, speed, phrasing, the correct use of for-mal and informal language, figurative language, and irony and then take those skills out into the real world.

Speech-language pathologist Ryan Shoemaker, Chapel Haven West

Speech-language pathologist Ryan Shoemaker, Chapel Haven West

Individuals on the spectrum often have difficulty establishing new relationships, as well as man-aging existing relationships. The process of learning how to classify a relationship, identify strategies for keeping that relationship going, and determine what kind of information can be shared with that person can be quite a challenge. However, the importance of this skill cannot be overstated as these individuals experience a wide array of both positive and negative relationships and need to be able to interact in an expected way with each.

Social environments are filled with unwritten rules, or the “hidden curriculum”, that can shift dramatically with even the smallest change in that setting. Learning how to identify and follow these rules across such a wide range of social contexts is especially challenging for individuals on the spec-trum who tend to be more rigid in their thinking. As students become more familiar with this concept and the process, they find it easier to be comfortable and successful in unfamiliar social settings.

Learning to identify and value the perspectives of others is also at the core of successful social communicative competency. As students acquire this skill, they often experience increased self-satisfaction as social interaction becomes more intuitive and successful. The benefits of considering the perspectives of others span every kind of relationship and social setting, not only assisting in creating positive experiences, but also in avoiding or de-escalating potentially negative situations.

Three Success Stories

How can SCC help young adults? Typical responses are:

“My eye contact has improved. I show interest in other people. I am more empathetic toward friends. I have improved in my ability to terminate conversations appropriately and initiate questions in conversations.”

“My son has learned how to listen and, even if he is not engaged, give facial expressions indicat-ing that he is listening. Whereas before he would just walk away, he can sit at the table now at Thanks-giving and Christmas, where there are 20 people at a table, and engage in conversation.”

“My son would attempt to enter conversations by asking over and over: ‘Do you like pizza?’ He would have zero timing on that. It would be disconnected from anything going on and he would inter-rupt. As he has gained competence, he has become confident enough to go up to a group, listen, and comment on what is being said—and his timing has improved.”