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  • Writer's pictureLaura McAlpine

Thoughts on Friendship Building- A Speech Language Pathologist’s Perspective

What we hear most upon talking with a parent during an intake session for our ACT AS IF social communication groups is:

  • “My son does really well with adults or younger kids, but just cannot make and maintain friendships with his/her peers.”

  • “It’s either her way or the highway.”

  • “He really wants friends but when he engages, he talks incessantly on his preferred topic and doesn’t realize that his listener is bored.”

While we as a society look for a diagnosis, which is often helpful in determining a type of medication or modality of intervention, the most challenging aspect of any therapeutic plan is client generalization. Can he or she carry over communication skills to a naturalistic setting?

In speech and language treatment, we’ve been schooled to implement applied behavior analysis techniques, learning theory, and specific evidenced based techniques. Evidence- based practice is popular pedagogically and allows for that proof in the pudding, techniques yielding accuracy, certainly justifying paying money for private programs or allocating funds to programs in the public schools.

What is reinforcing to change communication behaviors? Some skills are easier to measure from baseline to post treatment. However, the dynamics of social communication broadly involves explicit information exchange, turn taking, questioning, clarifying, commenting, and comprehension of the “message.” Now, add layers of perspective taking (theory of mind), emotion, humor, sarcasm, tone of voice nuances, and never mind those distractions in the environment that draw you away from your speaking partner. How does one sift out the variables to measure progress?

For our kids, the victory is not just meeting the standard 80% accuracy on a contrived checklist, on 2 out of three trials but rather when:

  • a friend asks you to join them at recess

  • you are invited to a birthday party

  • someone sits next to you at lunch

  • you receive a compliment on your cool t -shirt

  • you have the same book that someone else just read

  • you can talk about shared strategy and enjoyment of a video game

  • someone wants you on their team during PE class

Invitations, inclusion, and affirmation are what makes our kids tick. Feeling valued increases levels of communicative confidence and competence.

Kids don’t always see those connections between their successful social communication skills and promoting healthy peer relationships. We have to work to that end.

We know that social pragmatic skills require verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

So, explicit teaching is necessary and good; however nothing can replicate peer dynamics better than in the moment peer dynamics. This is only possible through improvised scene work after the explicit teaching. This is why ACT AS IF improvisational social communication activities are yielding results with our clients.

When we hear the various social scenarios that are problematic in making and keeping friends, intervention is multifaceted. In 'Social Thinking' (Michelle Garcia Winner), the main tenant is to “think” about what others are thinking. In this way, Theory of Mind skills are necessary and theoretically can be taught.

AND IN IMPROVISATIONAL SOCIAL COMMUNICATION BASED THERAPY, we can move from explicit communication skills to nuanced skills- get the initial practice, get the feedback, get the revised practice, and experience success when others affirm and join us. NOW, join us with ACT AS IF! – classes team facilitated by a speech language pathologist and an actor! Additionally, 73 social communication improvisation activities are found in our book.

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