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Emotional/behavioral Disorders: A Retrospective Examination of Social Skills, Linguistics, and Student Outcomes

Article excerpt

A language-based social skills instruction intervention used to prepare middle and high school students with emotional/behavioral disorders for return to less restrictive public school placements was evaluated. The daily 50-minute intervention focused on repetitive readings, recitations, and role-playing of skill step procedures until students achieved mastery on each required task in five broad dimensions: peer relations, self-management, academic, compliance, and assertion. The students were divided into three groups according to the length of intervention (under 2 years, 2 to 3 years, and more than 3 years). Dependent t tests were used to test the effects of prolonged intervention on past year and final year disruptive behavior totals and response to a self-control question for students in each group. In addition, a chi-square was used to evaluate the frequency of students with four or fewer disruptive behaviors across groups to determine progress toward unsupervised transition. Implications for social skills intervention and communication disorders practice are discussed.


Social competence is defined as "the ability to interact successfully with peers and significant adults" (Gresham, Sugai, & Horner, 2001, p. 331). Children not exhibiting appropriate social competence in the context of school, home, or other cultural contexts are often included in programs designed to improve their social skills. Social skills training, however, has not been shown to produce the desired changes in social competence that the programs intend. Gresham et al. report that interpretation of meta-analyses has led to the conclusion that "social skills training has not produced particularly large, socially important, long-term, or generalizable changes in social competence" (p. 332). The weak effects of the training may be a function of the taxonomy used to classify behavior and behavior problems.

As detailed by Gresham and his colleagues (2001), "social skills are behaviors that must be taught, learned, and performed, whereas social competence represents judgments or evaluations of these behaviors within and across situations" (p. 333). Social skills are those behaviors used by an individual to function in social tasks, such as in starting and maintaining conversations, giving and receiving compliments, engaging in play with peers, requesting actions or information, and taking part in other socially relevant activities for the individual's age group. Social competence, in contrast, is defined by significant others within the contexts in which the individual has opportunities for interaction. As such, teachers, parents, siblings, and peers judge whether an individual's behaviors are socially relevant and desirable; that is, that the behaviors are acceptable and functional for the individual to gain peer and adult acceptance, form friendships, and participate successfully in social tasks.

To be socially valid outcomes of social skills instruction (SSI), behaviors need to exist not only in the presence of the teachers or interventionists, but also in the generalized contexts of everyday functioning and in the opinion of those significant others with whom the child interacts. If the SSI program produces only weak effects in the children participating, we must question why this occurred and how it can be modified.


It has been widely established that poor language ability and emotional/behavioral problems, including psychopathology, psychosocial impairments, and psychiatric disorders, have a close association (Asher & Gazelle, 1999; Baltaxe & Simmons, 1990; Beitchman, Cohen, Konstantareas, & Tannock, 1996; Brinton & Fujiki, 1993, 1999; Brown, 1994; Cantwell & Baker, 1987, 1991; Fujiki, Brinton, Hart, & Fitzgerald, 1999; Gallagher, 1999; Hyter, Rogers-Adkinson, Self, Simmons, & Jantz, 2001). …