Social Skills Group, cure for social avoidance: Mendel Psychological Associates

How Social Skills Group Members Experience THeir Participation

Social Skills Groups: The Cure for Social Avoidance

Craig had pretty much never had a friend. Every social interaction was torture for him. He had been a target of teasing, ridicule, and bullying from the time he was a very young child. He had been hurt so many times by social rejection that it had become the norm for him. He even began to welcome it, stating that he preferred not to have any of his peers in his life: it was better to be alone than to be continually hurt. It was clear to me, and to his parents, that a social skills group would be perfect for him.

But Craig felt differently.

He adamantly refused to join the group. His response, in my experience, is fairly common.
And it's really not surprising. For kids like Craig, social interactions have always been sources of pain and torment. They assume that every group experience will be negative. Why in the world would they want to join a social group?

Yet, social skills groups are ideal for kids like Craig. They see very quickly that these groups are totally different than any social situation they've ever experienced: this is a place in which there is absolutely no teasing, insults, or humiliation. They also see that the group is filled with kids who have struggled with the very same things they have. These kids – often for the first time in their lives – feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. They start to develop friendships with the other members of the group. As these friendships grow, so too does the child's self-confidence. Over time, his newfound social skills become increasingly strong and stable. Eventually, he starts to apply them in the social world outside of the social skills group. His social abilities improve and he starts to make friends. Finally, social interactions need not mean pain and misery, but can instead bring closeness, joy, and affection.

Learning to make friends

As many of you know, I lead several social skills groups for kids and teenagers with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism. Six group members has always been my maximum for my groups. Recently, a boy was ready to join the high school group a little while before another boy was going to graduate from the group. I brought up the idea with the group of briefly having seven members and asked whether that would be alright with them.

They responded enthusiastically: not only was it alright with them to have seven group members for a short period of time, why not expand the group more generally? Why not have eight or even ten teenagers in the group? As one boy put it, "that way we can make even more friends!"

I found that moment moving and profound. Here was a set of kids most of whom had always been on the fringes of any social group, kids who rarely if ever had friends. These kids had chronically been the target of teasing, bullying, rejection and humiliation. But here, in this group, they had discovered that social interactions with peers could be rewarding and fun. They welcomed the opportunity to meet more kids because having that opportunity would enable them to "make even more friends."

That view, and the sea-change it represents from the experience these kids have had previously in social settings, is what these groups are all about.