Role of Social Skills Training in Improving Social Competence in Individuals with Mental Retardation

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2010

15 Pages


Role of Social Skills Training in Improving Social Competence in Individuals with Mental Retardation

The social competence is very important to survive successfully in society. Everybody needs to be socially competent for living a better life in society, having good relationships and interactions with others. Researchers have concluded that deficits in social competence can affect later success in life. Social competence has frequently been cited as a critical component of life adjustment (e.g., Epstein & Cullinan, 1987; Neel, 1988). In particular, the importance of social competence and related personality features has been stressed for individuals who have mental retardation or other developmental disabilities (e.g., Balla & Zigler, 1979). As a consequence, social skills instruction has increasingly been recognized as a key component to be included in intervention programs for students who are mildly mentally retarded. (Gable. A.R & Warren. F.S., 1993).

The American Association on Mental Retardation (2002), defines mental retardation as “Mental retardation is disability characterized by significant limitation both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before age 18”. (p.1). Social skills are specific behaviors that facilitate interpersonal interactions and maintain a degree of independence in daily functioning. Social competence involves the use of those skills at the right times and places, showing social perception, cognition, and judgment of how to act in a particular situation and how to adjust one’s behavior to meet different situations (Greenspan, 1979, 1990; Kerr & Nelson, 1989; Sargent, 1989).

A limited focus on skill training without addressing competence issues decreases the likelihood that the student will maintain the skills or generalize them to settings and interactions beyond the classroom. Instruction must make obvious to the student the salient characteristics of situations in which the skills are useful and appropriate, as well as afford the student ample opportunities to practice making social judgments and demonstrating skills across different situations (Haring, 1988; Sargent, 1988, as cited by Gable. A.R & Warren. F.S., 1993).

Historically, research on social competence began among populations of children with mental retardation. The earliest studies demonstrated that children with mental retardation were not accepted socially by their peers in mainstream classes. (Semmel, Gottlied, & Robinson, 1979). The general belief at the time was that the lower social acceptance of students with disabilities was caused by a lack of specific social skills included sharing behaviors, joining in conversation, asking for help, verbal problem solving and listening to others. This belief has been referred to as the “deficit model” or “social skills deficit model”, of instruction, because the problem was believed to reside with the child. (Vaughn, MsIntosh & Spencer-Rowe, 1991).

Components of Social Competence

Vaughn and her associates have identified four interdependent factors that comprise social competence, each of which must be considered in order to construct an educational intervention to change a child’s social competence. These are the following: Social skills knowledge: obviously, a student’s knowledge and use of acceptable social skills has some effect on overall social competence. Intervention for social skills deficits involves training the child in specific social skills or social problem solving strategies.

The child’s relationships with others: this typically involves peer status, friendships, relationships with family and teachers, and, at later stages, intimate relationships (Vaughn & Hogan, 1994). Measures of peer acceptance generally should involve the use of the peers in the class for assessment. Such assessment is referred to as sociometric rating. Interventions for peer acceptance typically involve those in which the peers participate along with the target child, and increased structured interactions do tend to lead to development for peer acceptance and friendships that involve students with and without disabilities. (Bishop & Jubala, 1994)

Accurate age appropriate social cognition: this is the ability to cognitively interpret the social dialogue and understand the feelings, motivations, and behaviors of oneself and others. (Vaughn & Hogan, 1990). Intervention for this type of socia cognition usually involves role-play activities in which the target child is taught to consider the feelings of others.

The absence of maladaptive behaviors: This includes serious behavior problems and noxious social behavior as well as development of self-control. An uncontrollable nose drip has been used as one example of a socially noxious behavior. Typically noxious behaviors and maladaptive behaviors are measured through observation or teacher rating, and interventions are structured to decrease or eliminate the inappropriate behavior whenever possible. Sociobehavioral Deficits in mild mental retardation Because of the importance of social concerns in persons who are mentally retarded, several notable attempts have been made to conceptualize the construct of social competence (e.g., Greenspan, 1979; Sargent, 1989) as well as to define its role in relation to the general concept of mental retardation (e.g., St. Claire, 1989). Greenspan (1990) recently proposed a revised model of social competence that is divided into two sub-constructs. The first, entitled intellectual aspects, includes practical and social intelligence. Practical intelligence refers to ‘the ability to maintain and sustain oneself as an independent person in managing the routine activities of daily living’ (Coulter & Polloway, 1989, p.1), whereas social intelligence focuses on the ‘ability to understand social expectations and the evaluation of other persons, and to judge appropriately how to conduct oneself in social situations’ (Coulter & Polloway, 1989, p.2). Greenspan’s (1979) original model included social comprehension, social insight, judgment, and communication, whereas the revised model deals with the general areas of awareness and skill. The second sub-construct of the revised model, personality aspects, focuses on style aspects of competence. These include temperament and character, which together focus on attention, calmness, niceness, and responsibility (Greenspan, 1990, as cited by Gable. A.R & Warren. F.S., 1993).

Causes of Deficits in Social Competence

There are number of reasons of having low social competence among students with disabilities. First, researchers have been concerned with the potentially negative effects of labeling a child as disabled, including the potential that such labeling will result in low social acceptance. Second cause is deficits in social skills. The bulk of research during the last ten years in the area of social competence has dealt with measuring social skills and devising instructional programs for these skills. One cause may be termed the “primary cause” hypothesis—that the same neurological dysfunctions or cognitive processing problems that caused the disability also caused the deficits in social skill deficits. Another potential cause of deficits in social skills may be identified as the “secondary cause” hypothesis. The hypothesis suggests that deficits in cognitive abilities cause deficits in achievement, and that students who have obvious deficits in achievement and likely to be less popular and thus less likely to have opportunities to practice acceptable social skills. It means the deficit in social skills is seen as a secondary or indirect result of the cognitive process difficulties that caused the disability. (Gresham & Elliott, 1989b; Vaughn & Hogan, 1990).

In recent years, particular emphasis has been put on the necessity to help these individuals to acquire socialization in order to prepare them for social life. With the help of it individuals receive positive feedback in social environment, preventing the negative ones and facilities interpersonal relationships. (Warger & Rultherford, 1996). In socialization, such social skills that teacher may want to work on with their students include: self control, listening, problem solving, negotiating, working together, talking turns, conflicts management, encouraging others and giving positive feedback. (Quinn, Osher, Warger, Hanley, Barder, & Hoffman, 1996).

Social skills training can play a vital role in improving social competence among students with mental retardation. Social skills are not the same thing as behavior. Rather they are components of behavior that help an individual understand and adapt across a variety of social settings. Walker (1983), defines social skills as “a set of competencies that a) allow an individual to initiate and maintain positive social relationships, b) contribute to peer acceptance and to a satisfactory school adjustment, and c) allow an individual to cope effectively with the larger social environment” (p. 27).

According to Reynolds, T & Dombeck, M, years, Good social skills include understanding and respecting shared social rules for how people dress and how they interact with one another. For example, social skills include knowing when it is appropriate to make eye contact with another and when it is not, knowing how to start and stop conversations appropriately, knowing how to make small talk, and understanding how to notice and respond to non-verbal body language. Collectively, good social skills make it possible for people to form interpersonal relationships, which are central to effective social functioning.

Langone, (1997) argue that in community life appropriate social behavior may be even more important for job skills whether one is perceived as a competent individual. A study conducted by Greenspan, S & Shoultz, B, 1981, entitled “Why mentally retarded adults lose their jobs: social competence as a factor in work adjustment” Based on interviews with former employers and others, an attempt was made to determine the primary reason for the involuntary termination from competitive employment of 30 mildly and moderately mentally retarded individuals. In the results three social reasons (deficits in temperament, character, and social awareness) and three nonsocial reasons (production inefficiency, health problems, and economic layoff) were used to code the data. Holmes and Fillary (2000) investigated that workers with intellectual disabilities who have strong competence in social skills are generally perceived more positively regardless of task related skill level. (p.274).

Instruction in social competence is receiving a great deal more attention today a number of reasons. First, research within the last two decades has shown decisively that many children and youth with disabilities including mental disabilities, learning disabilities and behavioral disorders, demonstrate deficits in social competence. (Bryan, 1994; Gresham,1981; Gresham & Elliott, 1989, et al.). Second, deficits in social competence among children with disabilities severely affect their success in school mainstreaming and inclusive class programs. (Gresham, 1981; Nelson, 1988)


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Role of Social Skills Training in Improving Social Competence in Individuals with Mental Retardation
Human Exceptionalities
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role, social, skills, training, improving, competence, individuals, mental, retardation
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Amna Arif (Author), 2010, Role of Social Skills Training in Improving Social Competence in Individuals with Mental Retardation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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