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

Article excerpt


This article provides an analysis of the current knowledge base of social skills training (SST) with students with, or at risk for, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD). This knowledge base is evaluated with respect to issues regarding construct, internal, external, and social validity of the SST literature. Research syntheses investigating construct validity suggest that the three domains of social interaction, prosocial behavior, and social-cognitive skills adequately represent the social skills construct. Internal validity analyses based on the results of six meta-analyses suggested that SST is an effective intervention strategy for students with EBD, showing a 64% improvement rate relative to controls using the Binomial Effect Size Display. External validity analyses showed that SST is effective across a broad range of behavioral difficulties, such as aggression externalizing behaviors, internalizing behaviors, and antisocial behavior patterns. Some weaknesses were noted in the social validity of SST outcome measures, and recommendations are made for improvement in this area. Overall, SST is an effective and essential part of a comprehensive intervention program for students with EBD.

* 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. …


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