Academic journal article Behavioral Disorders

Social Skills Training for Children and Youth with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Validity Considerations and Future Directions

Academic journal article Behavioral Disorders

Social Skills Training for Children and Youth with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Validity Considerations and Future Directions

Article excerpt

* Students classified as having Emotional and Behavior Disorders (EBD) experience significant difficulties in the development and maintenance of satisfactory interpersonal relationships, exhibition of prosocial behavior patterns, and social acceptance by peers and teachers (Gresham, 1998; Kauffman, 2001; Walker, Ramsay, & Gresham, 2004). These social skills deficits lead to both short-term and long-term difficulties in areas of educational, psychosocial, and vocational domains of functioning (Kupersmidt, Coie, & Dodge, 1990; Newcomb, Bukowski, & Pattee, 1993; Parker & Asher, 1987). Personal and social adjustment largely depends on an individual's ability to initiate, facilitate, and maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships. These positive interpersonal relationships, in turn, lead to peer acceptance as well as mutually rewarding and lasting friendships (Gresham, 2001; Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995; Walker et al., 2004). Moreover, a large part of being socially competent reflects the ability to terminate pernicious or destructive interactions and relationships with others (Elliott & Gresham, 1991; Gresham, 2002). It could be argued that the primary reason children and youth are referred for, and subsequently classified as, EBD is based on their social competence deficiencies (Forness & Knitzer, 1992; Gresham, 2002).

Two of the five criteria described in the present definition of emotional disturbance of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1999) indicate social competence difficulties as part of the eligibility standards: (a) an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; and (b) the expression of inappropriate behavior or feelings under normal circumstances. Additionally, social competence or interpersonal difficulties are part of the diagnostic criteria for many disorders of childhood and adolescence specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM, IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). These disorders include childhood depression, dysthymia, conduct disorders, oppositional defiant disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, selective mutism, and autism.

The purpose of the present paper is to provide an analysis of the current landscape and knowledge with respect to validity issues bearing upon social skills training (SST) with children and youth who have EBD. Specifically, we describe key measurement and design issues found in the published social skills intervention studies and various meta-analyses that have attempted to summarize and meaningfully integrate the knowledge base in this area. Consistent with the theme of this special issue, we will characterize and discuss social skills training across four types of validity evidence: construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and social validity. We rely primarily on a number of meta-analyses that have been conducted with this population and provide explanations for disparate findings in this area. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of policy and intervention implications for continued work in the area of SST for children with EBD.


Literature Search and Selection Criteria

In order to examine the current knowledge of social skills training outcomes for students with or at risk for EBD, a comprehensive examination of all the group-based metaanalyses performed on social skills training was conducted. For the purposes of this research, social skills training was broadly defined as any meta-analysis that synthesized studies on the basis of behavioral, cognitive, or social interventions that were directed at training specific social skills and/or remediating particular social skill deficits. A list of all the potential meta-analyses was generated by searching the Educational Resources Information Center, Psychological Abstracts, and Medline databases over the years of 1980 to 2004 as well as conducting ancestral searches of articles identified through our initial searches and related literature reviews. …

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