By Parsons, Lynn D.
Teaching Exceptional Children , Vol. 39, No. 2
Many students with disabilities have difficulty acquiring social skills, especially those necessary for employment. Students with autism struggle because of problems with
* Theory of mind (for more information see www.autism.org/mind. html),
* Reading facial expressions (see http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/ cgi/content/full/127/8/1691),
* Auditory processing problems (see http://www.autism.org/auditory. html), and
* A lack of exposure to social conventions.
Early childhood intervention programs, social skills classes, and in-home training within the Birdville Independent School District have helped many students with autism to function well in a school environment, but they still have problems becoming and remaining employed.
Review of Hie Literature
Many articles examined during a literature review mentioned workplace social skills (see box, "Social Skills in the Workplace"). Virtual reality and video have been used for social skills instruction (see Parsons & Milehell, 2002J with very young children with autism (see Nickopoulos & Keenan, 2003). However, there is limited information about use of video with secondary students.
Social Skills Classes
Students with autism or Asperger's syndrome in the Birdville Independent School District, located near Fort Worth, Texas, may attend "Survivor Bunch," an after school and summer bimonthly social skills class for middle and high school students. Teachers decided to use videotaped role-plays to allow students to observe themselves, make helpful suggestions to their peers, and rehearse social skills. (see Figure 1 for a sample Video Release Form.) Using digital video cameras is a natural fit for these students. They are visual learners (see box, "Visual Nature of Students with Autism"), and a video gives them an unusual opportunity to see themselves as others see them.
The class met 4 days per week, 3.5 hr per day. The schedule included physical education, game time, computer lab time, and lesson time, during which the videos were created. Conflicts arising during the other activities such as arguments about seating on the bus, squabbles over physical education equipment, verbal altercations regarding board game rules, off-task behavior in the computer lab, or unkind remarks made during lessons were used in later role plays. This allowed students to evaluate and correct their behavior during the school day.
We collected data using parent surveys, peer surveys, and student surveys. The learners took home the parent survey (see Figure 2) on the first day of class and again 2 weeks later. Students completed a peer evaluation survey (see Figure 3) and student surveys (Figure 4) during lesson time on the first day and at the end of 2 weeks.
The parent survey provided information about behaviors observed at home. Questions sought data about self-isolation, attitudes toward socializing, anxiety over change, conversational skills, and attitudes towards the social skills class. The instructors believed improved social skills lead to less self-imposed isolation and improved attitudes towards social activities. We examined anxiety about change and conversational skills to see if adapting to new role-plays would improve adaptability and reciprocal speech. Finally, we evaluated student attitudes to ensure that the students enjoyed the activities enough to continue participation.
The peer survey introduced the idea of classmate evaluation. An important part of the role-play process, this survey indicated if students learned from the actions of others, a critical social ability. The data on classroom behavior helped instructors assess learner progression.
The self-reflective survey initially was difficult for all learners to complete. Students with autism struggle to examine themselves, so they required explanations for most of the survey questions. …