An Occupational Perspective on the Assessment of Social Competence in Children

By Lim, Sok Mui; Rodger, Sylvia | British Journal of Occupational Therapy, November 2008 | Go to article overview

An Occupational Perspective on the Assessment of Social Competence in Children


Lim, Sok Mui, Rodger, Sylvia, British Journal of Occupational Therapy


Maintaining relationships and interacting socially are essential aspects of the occupational performance of childhood and adolescence. Social participation occurs during many childhood occupations, such as play and school work. Occupational therapists assess and treat children with difficulties in social participation. Rather than assessing a child's social skills deficits in isolation, the use of occupation-based theoretical models guides clinicians to consider the individual in his or her environments and during occupations. Familiarity with existing models of social competence and available assessment tools provides occupational therapists with the basis for a comprehensive assessment of children.

This paper presents an occupational therapy model (the Model of Human Occupation), models of social competence from cognate fields and a range of assessment tools in order to guide occupational therapists in assessing and treating children with social participation difficulties in a more occupation- centred manner. The paper also presents a rationale for the use of multiple methods for a comprehensive assessment of a child's social competence.

Key words: Social skills, children, model, participation, measurement.

Introduction

Social skills and social competence are complex constructs. Therefore, it is important to begin this article by defining a few important terms. In the child development and psychology literature, many authors have attempted to define social competence in a wide variety of ways (for example, Zigler and Trickett 1978, Wright 1980, McFall 1982, Guralnick 1992) (see Table 1). In this paper, social competence is defined as an evaluative term, based on a judgement by significant others (given certain criteria) that a person has performed competently on age-appropriate social tasks (McFall 1982). Social skills refer to specific abilities or behaviours required to perform social tasks competently (McFall 1982). Hence, social participation requires children to develop a range of social skills relevant to various social tasks. A child's social participation is judged through observation of his or her engagement in relevant social tasks and these will change with age and developmental expectations.

Social competence is important for developing successful relationships and is necessary for occupational engagement. In recent years, there have been more occupational therapists assessing and treating children with difficulties in social participation. This is evidenced by the increase in the number of papers and books published by occupational therapists that are related to social skills and social competence (for example, Williamson and Dorman 2002, Donohue 2005, Gol and Jarus 2005, Skog et al 2006, Lim et al 2007). Doble et al (1991) found that 79% of the occupational therapists surveyed in the Atlantic Region of Canada, working in the areas of either psychosocial dysfunction and /or physical dysfunction, indicated that social skills assessments were required for comprehensive occupational therapy evaluations. However, factors such as a limited knowledge of available evaluation tools, limited access to social skills models and insufficient time hampered their evaluation of social skills (Doble et al 1991). To conduct effective assessments and interventions with children who have difficulty with social participation, it is crucial to develop a clear understanding about the factors that contribute to social competence as well as the available evaluation tools.

With the increasing interest shown by occupational therapists in children's social participation, this paper has three aims:

1. To enhance occupational therapists' understanding of social competence using occupational therapy models

2. To present existing models of social competence from cognate fields and demonstrate their relevance to occupational therapists

3. To review some practical and clinician-friendly assessments of social participation and the requisite social skills. …

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