Academic journal article Childhood Education

Teaching Social Skills to Preschoolers with Special Needs

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Teaching Social Skills to Preschoolers with Special Needs

Article excerpt

Many preschoolers with disabilities demonstrate problems in their social interaction skills (Guralnick, 1990; Odom & Brown, 1993). Compared to their typical peers, these children demonstrate lower rates of social initiations and responses and use less effective social strategies (Peterson & McConnell, 1993). Preschoolers with special needs can improve their social competence with their peers in inclusive settings, however, especially when their teachers encourage positive social interactions between these children and their typical peers (Guralnick, 1993).

Methods that may be used in inclusive settings to encourage such social interactions include: environmental arrangements, imitation of peers, teacher prompts, group affection activities, positive teacher reinforcements, peer-mediated interventions and correspondence training. The early childhood teacher plays an important role in helping preschoolers with special needs improve their social skills in inclusive classes.

Environmental Arrangements

A number of studies demonstrate that the systematic arrangement of the environment can improve preschoolers' social interactions in integrated classes (Brown, Fox & Brady, 1987; Sainato & Carta, 1992; Spiegel-McGill, Bambara, Shores & Fox, 1984). Brown, Fox and Brady (1987) investigated the effects of two free play conditions on young children with disabilities in an integrated setting. The researchers compared a play area that encompassed one-third of the center (58 square feet per child) to a smaller, restricted area consisting of 19 square feet per child. The results indicated that the smaller play area consistently prompted more socially directed behavior of children, both those with and those without disabilities. In another study of environmental arrangements, Spiegel-McGill et al. (1984) found that proximity increased preschoolers' social interactions. When the youngsters were placed close to one another, they were more socially responsive and played more frequently with each other.

Free play activity, in contrast to highly teacher structured activities such as circle, story and music times, appears to encourage more social interaction in children with or without disabilities (Sainato & Carta, 1992). In the free play condition, however, the amount of social interaction between these children appears to increase when teachers initially provide low structure through setting rules, establishing play themes and assigning roles (De Klyen & Odom, 1989).

A wide variety of toys can encourage social interactions in inclusive preschools. Dramatic play toys appear to promote the most social play, such as dolls, the house corner, kitchen play equipment and large motor equipment (climbing equipment, slides, large boxes, balls and tunnels). These toys encourage the social interaction of both low and high functioning children. Lower functioning preschoolers may play with the toys in realistic ways while higher functioning children can extend their use through more dramatic and imaginative play (Beckman & Lieber, 1992).

Imitation of Peers

Imitation is an important developmental accomplishment for the young child. Through watching and imitating others, preschoolers can learn many social skills (Bailey & Wolery, 1992). Wittmer and Peterson (1992) studied the use of imitation among preschoolers with special needs in integrated settings. They found that 23 percent of their positive behaviors included watching another youngster while another 23 percent included imitating another child. The majority of interactions by children with special needs were with their typical peers. Preschoolers with developmental delays enjoy being with typically functioning children and most of their interactions are positive ones, such as comforting another child, offering toys and initiating play. Teachers can encourage imitating behaviors in children with disabilities by giving them verbal and physical prompts and reinforcement. …

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