Training Social Workers: Implementing Social Skills Programming within Schools
As the number of children identified with autism increases, pressures on school districts to provide quality services magnifies. Within Illinois, school social workers are often the key professional within a school team that provides any kind of social skill training opportunities for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. However, many professionals are inadequately prepared through their undergraduate training or professional experiences, to cope with the spectrum of autism deficits.
During our training, participants learn how to apply interventions across a range of skill sets (concrete learners through to high functioning learners). The training is multi-modal in that it includes lectures, real life examples, video demonstration, and opportunities to create social activities. At the end of training participants must be able to create social games, activities and opportunities for their pupils at their schools. The training incorporates structured teaching methodology which is specifically designed to accommodate the characteristic strengths, and neurological differences of individuals on the autism spectrum.
This study investigated the effectiveness of the training model to increase social workers competence in social skills programming. The study addressed (i) competence of social skills programming gained across the training period (ii) the implementation of specific social strategies following training.
(i) Participating social workers (n= 97) who attended the training workshop completed a structured questionnaire pre and post training.
The questionnaire was developed and piloted by the lead trainers to assess key aspects of social communication and social skills interventions. Each of three sections described a student with skills sets at the concrete level (early learner); intermediate level; abstract level (advanced learner). Participants answered four questions in each section regarding that child. The final questionnaire had 12 questions, with a maximum total score of 72.
(ii) 10-14 days following training, participants were contacted by email and asked to return a survey of social skills strategies they implemented in their schools.
i) T-test revealed that there was a significant ( p<.01) increase in competence scores pre and post training at each level of social development (concrete, intermediate, abstract).
ii) A response rate of n= 58 (60%) was achieved for the follow up survey.
Follow up questions indicated that some aspect of the structured teaching training was implemented into practice by 90% of responders.
By attending the training, participants increased their confidence in their ability to teach social behavior, at any level of social ability, to individuals with ASD. Furthermore, once they returned to their home schools they implemented a multitude of social and social communication techniques. Although satisfaction of training was very high, desire for ongoing consultation at follow up is an issue that could be addressed. These results indicate the effectiveness of our training program. The training is now being provided to parents and other professionals in the field.