Simulated and in Situ Vocational Social Skills Training for Youths with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Social skills are critical for both in-school and out-of-school performance of students with learning disabilities. Fortunately, research and curriculum efforts in social skills training (e.g., Goldstein, Sprafkin, Gershaw, & Klein, 1980; Hazel, Schumaker, Sherman, & Sheldon-Wildgen, 1981) have demonstrated an effective instructional technology for acquisition of social skills. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done in demonstrating generalization to a number of criterion settings. Work settings have received increasing attention because of the federal transition initiative (Will, 1984; P.L. 98-199, Education for the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1983) and because social skills are clearly important for obtaining and maintaining employment.

Several studies have examined social skills training methodologies within vocational contexts. For example, Mathews, Whang, and Fawcett (1982) found that vocational social skills, such as accepting negative feedback, providing constructive criticism, and explaining a problem to a supervisor, were performed at lower levels by adolescents with learning disabilities than by their peers without disabilities. Subsequently, they taught two adolescents with learning disabilities job-related social skills. These skills included: explaining a problem to a supervisor, accepting a compliment, acceptig an instruction, providing constructive criticism, and offering a compliment. Instruction included written descriptions of each task, examples of appropriate performance (modeling), rationales for task use, rehearsal through role-play, feedback, and study questions. As measured by novel role-play situations in the training setting, the youths demonstrated substantial increases in their skill performance following training.

Another study designed to teach social skills relevant to occupational situations to adolescents with mild and moderate disabilities was conducted by Montague (1988). The 49 students had been identified as either learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, or mildly mentally retarded. The 10 job-related social skills targeted for instruction included (a) understanding instructions, (b) asking a question, (c) asking for help, (d) accepting criticism, (e) ordering job responsibilities, (f) accepting assistance, (g) giving instruction, (h) offering assistance, (i) apologizing, and (j) convincing others. These skills were taught over a 10-week period according to specifically scripted lessons. The actual teaching procedures included modeling, active participation, verbal rehearsal, directed questioning, visualization, cueing, guided practice, role-playing, feedback, and reinforcement. The training package increased job-related social skills within the training setting. Anecdotal data as well as student, parent, and teacher perception surveys indicated limited but promising transfer of skills from the classroom to the work environment. Montague noted, however, that further investigation would be necessary to accurately measure the student's transfer and maintenance of these skills in the workplace.

Studies of social skills training for students with learning disabilities have generally reported substantial transfer to novel role-play situations. However, Schumaker and Ellis (1982) stated, "Findings indicated that performance in novel role-play situations do not necessarily reflect how a learning disabled student will generalize newly learned social skills to the natural environment" (p. 413). Research on training strategies that may increase generalization to natural settings is limited. Warrenfeltz et al. (1981) found generalization of trained vocational social skills across settings and people. The training program employed both role play and self-monitoring techniques. However, because the techniques occurred simultaneously, it was impossible to isolate or assess their separate effects on generalization. Subsequently, Kelly et al. …


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