Social Interaction Skills at School
How Do TVIs Approach Instruction of Social Skills?
As children grow up, the social skills they learn tend to build upon each other. Therefore, children who are blind or low vision need ongoing instruction in age- and culturally-appropriate social skills.
As students age, they should learn more advanced social skills and continue practicing those previously learned. For example, children with blindness or low vision learn many social behaviors that will be expected of them as they enter school and other social environments outside their homes.
- Differences in how to properly greet and speak with adults versus greeting and speaking to other children (what you can say, what you cannot or should not say, when to speak up, and when to listen).
- How to communicate effectively with teachers and aides in a classroom setting (raising one’s hand to be called upon, following the rules for when one’s allowed to talk and how loudly, when one is allowed to interrupt and how, etc.).
- What activities and topics of conversation interest peers on the playground, in the cafeteria, and during informal interaction opportunities such as when waiting for the school bus or parent after school.
- How closely one is allowed to stand when in conversation.
- When and where a person is allowed to touch another person.
- The facial expressions and gestures peers use to convey nonverbal messages.
- Social behaviors are expected in public: covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, saying excuse me if you bump into someone or step on someone’s toes, saying please and thank you when asking for or receiving something from someone, and so forth.
- How to actively participate in social functions and extracurricular activities such as birthday parties, recreational or sporting events, and scouting.
- How to work effectively with a team of students on group projects.
During middle and high school, youths with blindness or low vision may benefit from structured learning that focuses on problem-solving social dilemmas, such as what to do if someone is rude when the student asks for assistance.
The use of role-playing and discussing scenarios may be especially helpful. Social skills can be refined by participating in drama, debate, and health classes.
Some youths may benefit from more targeted work in support groups or small-group counseling sessions. Adolescents with visual impairments need to feel comfortable discussing their disabilities with others: teachers, related service providers, friends, extended family, employers, and strangers. They must determine who needs to know what about them and how to refuse unneeded or unwanted assistance.
In addition, youths with visual impairments need information about social conventions and popular culture to participate in social activities with peers. These activities may involve eating out, dating, or socializing with an individual friend or in groups. This information includes knowing about fashion trends, technology, and gadgetry, popular music, sports, movies, etc.
Additional Social Skills
- Developing assertive communication skills and comparing those skills with aggressive or passive communication.
- Developing an awareness of how others feel when a person uses different types of communication skills.
- Understanding how to express sexuality appropriately and what to do if others interact inappropriately (coping mechanisms).
- Ensuring personal safety and well-being outside of the nuclear family (in preparation for living away from home)
- Negotiating with others—how to reciprocate when necessary and clarifying what the student can and cannot do to contribute in group activities or partnerships.
- How to set life/career goals and articulate those to others (family, friends, and service providers).
- Maintaining individuality while being aware of popular culture, trends, and social pressures.
How Can We Support Instruction in Social Interaction Skills in Schools?
Social interaction skills are best facilitated by a fully qualified TVI who is aware of the social gaps of the student who is blind or low vision and the longer-term impact this lack of access or understanding has on the student’s development.
In addition to providing direct instruction to help students develop social awareness and appropriate communication skills, TVIs must work with the student’s entire IEP team and larger school community to help others effectively support the student’s development of social interaction skills.
Youth with blindness or low vision need multiple sources of support and feedback throughout their community. These include family members, siblings, neighbors, peers, classroom teachers, school counselors, and others the student might regularly encounter in the community.
Youth also benefit from talking with peers and working adults with blind or low vision. These mentors are rich sources of information about how they navigate various social interactions.
In addition, social interaction skills should be addressed in IEP goals. However, instruction in social skills is usually not a formal process. Therefore, by working collaboratively with the larger community, teachers of students with visual impairments empower everyone invested in the student’s welfare to seize on teachable moments.