Building Social Skills

Podcast Episode 03. Hear from Emily Hughes, an expert in developing social skills, about the tools and tactics that can be used to help develop social skills.
Learn how important it is to ask the right questions and not just provide the right answers to reinforce a script. Listen to ideas on how to build confidence and resilience.

Show Notes

[1.00]  –   All about Emily Hughes and how she got to where she is now
[1.30]  –   The importance of actually teaching social skills from an early age
[4.30]  –   Examples of the types of language to use
[5.30]  –   Putting in place the building blocks of friendship
[6.15]  –   Using scripts to navigate any type of situations
[7.15]  –   The work of Mark Le Messurier
[10.00] –  Reinforcing skills using leading questions
[14.00] –   How a social skills programme works starting with meet and greet scripts
[16.00] –   What’s the buzz, show me the buzz, do you know the buzz, the buzz, goodbye buzz – What they all mean
[18.00] –   Using groups and common interests to enhance the learning of scripts
[21.30] –   Leveraging your support network
[23.00] –   Never provide the answers just ask the right questions to build confidence
[29.45] –   The value of having a mentor
[33.40] –   Build resilience through achievable goals, meeting challenges and learning from each
[36.00] –   Practice every day and celebrate every little success
[38.30] –   Collecingt the knowledge and deciding what works for you.

Key Takeaways
Anyone can build their social skills with the right tools and tactics
Celebrate the little successes

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript

DEBRA: Welcome to this week’s episode of the Journey Skills podcast. This week we’re talking to Emily. Emily is a fellow antipodean who’s just returned from Australia having lived there for a couple of years and is now living back in London. She’s a trained social worker and she’s got some really interesting things to share with us. Welcome, Emily.

EMILY: Thank you.

DEBRA: Firstly, just tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are right now, what you been up to, how did you end up here back in the UK.

EMILY: Okay, well I came to the UK after I complete my social work degree. I arrived in London when I was twenty-two years old and went straight into child protection in Lamberts, so it was a really hardcore beginning which taught me a lot and I enjoyed right up until the time of beginning to have my children. I have three children now so that quickly sorted into me working in social work because I just needed to focus on raising my children and especially in London with no family support and things like that. So, I did have quite a long break from social work and after having my children, my interests really turned towards social skills and emotional intelligence and I became really passionate about these two aspects of development not just for children with additional needs but for all children.

I firmly believed that social skills should be taught as a part of the curriculum in schools and I thought that would be so beneficial to all children because emotional intelligence is a really important indicator of having a successful life. And we are all social creatures and social skills don’t come naturally or easily to all of us but they do play a big part in us being happy.

So that’s what started my passion and I believe being in London where children start school at a younger age, it highlighted to me that these beginning years were such minefield for them where they’re coming home repeating the same social problems that they were navigating their way through. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could just run skills group, teaching these skills and teaching them how to solve these social problems and giving them a script, giving them the languages what believe to be able to solve their own problems. Instead of constantly repeating them to teachers and parents and taking out that large portion of the day by not having the tools to solve their own problems.

DEBRA: Did you mean sort of things where they don’t get along with friends? Can you give me an example of what you think where children (maybe not your children but where you see children) that have had those problems and they might be?

EMILY: Certainly. I think in the preschool and reception years where children are only four years old, you get a lot of ‘He’s not my friend, she’s not my friend and they won’t play with me, they said this, they did this’ and it’s just repeating the same things and they end up taking a lot of time, of the teacher’s time or the learning time or the classroom time. And you can really see how they struggle with these problems and they then feel all the negative feelings associated with these.

But I feel like it’s something you can easily address by giving them the language and then the knowledge behind these feelings. Just to be able to name them. I’m not suggesting that you can avoid these issues, but I think you can help them grow in independence right from the beginning by giving them the tools to solve their own problems. That’s would always come back to for me.

DEBRA: What would you say to them, what kind of language would you use? So if you got someone who’s comes home and they’re upset because someone isn’t talking to them and that would happen quite a lot with additional needs children because they have sometimes very different needs and some of them are more socially able than others but they still want to be friends with that person who isn’t socially aware. What would you say, what kind of language would you use?

EMILY: So, at a very young age, I would teach them about personal space and how important that is and why some children may react a certain way if you’re in their personal space. I would teach them to be able to identify their own personal space. I would also teach them language to stick up for themselves. ‘No thanks, not today’ or ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘Thanks for the offer but I don’t really feel like doing that today’. Instead of saying things like ‘That game’s stupid or ‘No, I’m playing with someone else today, I don’t want to play with you’. I would focus at more on expressing your own feelings and being assertive rather than saying things that can be hurtful to other children.

I guess assertive is the key word in there and boundaries and the first building steps of friendship. So how to build those blocks of friendship. And then from there, you can branch out to all sorts of things like empathy, recognizing your own feelings when you’re feeling like something’s going wrong and you don’t know how to get out of that situation to joining in and learning how to join in games. So, I see it as giving them inside knowledge into what’s important to our relationships throughout our whole life at a time when they’re navigating their way blindly through it.

DEBRA: When you talk about the script then, you’re talking about an emotional intelligence script. Is that one way of putting it?

EMILY: Yes, it is. A script where they have words and key phrases and sentences that they can call upon.

DEBRA: And they know that those are going to work for them and they’ll feel better and get those negative feelings that they have?

EMILY: Yes, they are assertive, they are positive, they’re friendly, they’re socially acceptable and they can get them out of a sticky situation.

DEBRA: Have you done those kinds of training if that makes sense. Have you done that?

EMILY: I have. Before I left to live in Australia for two years when I was getting really passionate and excited about this, I thought to myself, I’d love to write a social skills program and sort of sat down to do that one day and I was like “Oh, God this is going to be so much harder than I expected”. And so then, I started looking and my sister introduce me to a professional and an amazing sort of ambassador and teacher in this field which actually was designed for children, predominantly with Autism and Asperger’s, but also other additional needs as well. But it really focused on for what I believed was relevant to all children. So, I started reading his work and I just fell in love with it.

DEBRA: Who is that?

EMILY: So, his name is Mark Le Messurier.
DEBRA: We’ll put some links in the show notes and resources.

EMILY: Okay. And he’s also co-authored these specific social skills programs with Madhavi Nawana Parker. So, they are based in South Australia which is where I was going to. So, I was extremely excited about this and I emailed him one day, full of passion, saying “I love your work, can I be involved in any shape or form?” And of course, I didn’t hear anything back from that because that was bit of a sort of far-fetched reach but then when I did get to Adelaide, I still pursued him and I did end up meeting him and I did end up having lots of conversations with him and then I actually ended up running sort of co-facilitating some of these social skills programs with his daughter, Noni Le Messurier who’s another just amazing, talented, passionate, expert, professional in this field.

And what I see they do for children with additional needs is just so inspiring. I feel so lucky to have been so close to them in seeing their work and having an opportunity to be involved in that. And so that is the sort of program that I’ve seen deliver real results and that I feel is relevant to all children and especially children with additional needs because it teaches them some of those social skills that don’t come naturally.

DEBRA: Can you just maybe talk us through an example of what you saw of a social skill that they worked and how they did it? That’s really the interesting thing.

EMILY: Sure. Okay, so first of all, I will just say that I see it in my children all the time. My children are 7, 8, and 10 and I hear them using language that I’ve draft for them from the time they were 2. And I find that really rewarding because I see them becoming independent, confident, self-contained people that have a lot of skills to solve their own problems and I get so much satisfaction from that and I love hearing them talk about situations in the playground.

And they don’t ask me for advice or they don’t really ask my opinion. They just talk about it and they tell me what they did and I love that and I really get involved in the conversation and my part isn’t about saying ‘No you shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ or ‘You should have done that.’ It’s all lead in question. So, it’s all ‘How did that work out for you? Oh, what happened then? Wow! Is that the result you were looking for? Are you happy about that? Ah why didn’t that work? What would you have done differently?’

So, it’s very much an open conversation where they’re the expert in the situation and it’s talking through their behaviors and really praising them when they got a great result or just giving them an understanding and empathy when they didn’t get the result they wanted. And then, giving them an opportunity to explore further how they could have got a different result and that’s very much been feed into role play which I’ll talk about a bit later which I think is a fantastic tool in helping children practice these scripts. So perhaps, if I then to answer your question talk about how I started working in Adelaide which is sort of relevant to how I saw the social skills being put in place.

So, I was employed at a private primary school as an educational support officer and they took me on the basis of my social work degree. I haven’t done specific training for educational support but by no way was I as knowledgeable or as much of an expert as the other ESOs that were working there. What I did bring to the role which was valid and valuable was the social skills aspect and the emotional intelligence. So, I did support children in the classroom with additional needs but I did also run these social skills programs that I was talking about by Mark Le Messurier and Madhavi Nawana Parker within the school. And I’ve worked with children on a one-on-one basis providing coaching, mentoring and emotional support and this was all children within the school not just children with additional needs.

So, I did the training course to be able to run these social skills group which is very accessible and that’s one of the best things about these course is that it’s accessible, affordable and available for any parent, teacher or person interested in to be able to train and then run the course. So, it was very successful in the school and the examples that I saw are just… they’re just beautiful. Their continuous stories of success of these children that struggle with the language and with identifying the feelings to be in a safe space where they enjoy friendship, support, feedback, encouragement to use these words and experience these feelings and try and link the two and try and gain confidence in social situations where they didn’t have any.

And yes, I’ve got so many of these stories and they’re so delightful and they’re so heartwarming. I guess quickly one of the ways that they culminate is in the parties we have at the end. Where you see these anywhere from 4 to 8 children when they’re described by their teachers have all of these difficulties within school, within peer groups, within friendships. Your experience of them is very different and you see them in these social skills groups create friends and laugh and had fun and get celebrated, liberated and you see them at the end of the course, end of the 16-week-course in this party, eating, drinking, laughing, joking, going off with other children and making their own games and being socially successful and some of these kids don’t get that opportunity very often.

DEBRA: So, you said about role play, is that the focus of really the social skills?

EMILY: It’s definitely a component. I wouldn’t say it’s the focus. So, to describe a typical session, there are 16 sessions, 45 minutes each and the thing that I love about them is they’re all just such a simple design. So, the same design every single week, you sit in a circle, you have reward tokens. It’s all positive-based. No negativity. There is discipline but it’s very subtle and quiet. So, for example, if one child was really being disruptive, one of the facilitators might walk behind him and place a quiet hand on his shoulder and then walk back to the facilitator’s chair. So, it is very positive reinforcement.

So each session will have a topic that will be the focus for that week and these run in order so in the beginning you have a session on ‘Meeting and Greeting’: What are the acceptable ways to say ‘hello’ and do you say ‘hello’ in the same way to a family member as to someone in the supermarket? So very simple. In that session, we’ll have the main goal and then we have a quick quiz about the session to determine if you’ve got all of the information that we wanted you to get from the goal. And then, we will have a role play where we get to give scenarios that (you’re break into pairs) and you give scenarios that you have to act out and then you come back to circle and act them out in front of the group and you get feedback on your performance.

And then, you also get a social game at the end and the social game is relevant to the lesson that you were trying to learn that day. So, the sessions are interactive, they’re focused, they offer the chance for feedback and they really focus on teaching that skills so the child walks away with a skill, another skill to add to their tool bag.

DEBRA: So, like a script in their head for Meet and Greet, really?


DERBA: How do I say, ‘Hello’? Because that’s often an issue for children with additional needs is their context of the situation. Changing how they say ‘Hello’ or speak to someone in a different place because they can be quite well-versed or well-trained to deal with me or someone else but when they’re totally different situation, they don’t know what to say. They all get tongue-tied.

EMILY: Yes that’s right. That’s why I love these sessions because they’re built upon within that course. So, for example, Debra if I go through a quick lesson plan with you, I’ll explain again the structure of the lesson more in sync. So, the first one’s called What’s the buzz? The first part of the session is called What’s the buzz? and that’s where we want to get across what we’re teaching you today. Then, we’re going to talk about Show me the buzz and that’s where you break into pairs and you get a certain type of ‘Hello’ to practice and you look at the different components of that ‘Hello’; so what do you do the eyes, what do you do with the hands, what do you do with your personal space, what do you do with your voice, and it’s all of those idiosyncrasies that may not come naturally. Do you say ‘hello’ with a really crossed face but in a nice voice? Why doesn’t that work? Why does that look odd? How is that going to make the other person feel?

So, it really gets the chance to explore these things in detail and that’s what’s great about doing it in a role play because you do get that feedback from other people as well which peer feedback, I just feel so passionate about is such a great tool. The next component of the session is Do you know the buzz? and that’s where we have our thumbs up, thumbs down quiz. So, if you agree with the answer, you put your thumbs up. If you don’t agree, you put the thumbs down. Really simple and fun and that gets a lot of laughs. And if you put your thumbs on the side because you’re unsure, then we will address you and you will have to explain your answer as to why you’re not sure.

The fourth part of the session is called The Buzz which is the social game. And like I said, that’s relevant to the aim of that session of the focus of the topic that we’re looking at for that week. And then the fifth part is Goodbye buzz and that’s where we all say goodbye and following the session, there is notes for parents and teachers to read through and to practice at home.

So, it’s really interactive and it is fun. It gets great results but what I love about it which brings me to some of the things that I work so well is using your peers. I love group therapy and I think it can work in any situation. I’ve done it within a book club before for children, always wanted to do it in cooking classes. I think you can put a group together of like-minded people in terms of you being there for the same purpose and I think that’s therapy.

DEBRA: So, would you do something like that in the cooking class while people were cooking? What do you mean by?

EMILY: No. So, cooking class, I feel any group situation where you’re there with the same goals in mind whether that’s independence or social skills or support or feedback or company. I feel all of those skills can be therapeutic. So if that’s done in a cooking class, the way that I feel it’s therapeutic is because you’ve got some way to go on an afternoon when you feel like you belong and you can have a chat and people are nice to you and you can learn something and you can interact.

DEBRA: Do you think that common interests is important?

EMILY: Yes, I do think the common interests is important but that common interests can be anything; can be just for the company, it can be to learn about cooking, it can be that a chance to practice those scripts and learn how to make friends. So, there are a lot of different reasons and the way that I feel that that’s important with students with additional needs, I feel that that can happen in any group situation for them. You can get together a group of kids; whatever activity it is that you’re doing, I feel it has therapeutic benefits.

Same as parents. You can look at parents of children with additional needs, get them together; drink coffee, sit in a circle, read the same book. It brings together people that are experiencing perhaps some of the same challenges and that’s therapeutic. It gives you an opportunity to talk or to share ideas or to learn of other people’s experience and advice.

DEBRA: When you talk about this sort of peer feedback and I don’t want to be negative but I’m just wondering how you deal with children who maybe don’t know how to feedback to peers? Because I can imagine lots of additional needs children get in the circle, and they want to learn, but they don’t really know how to then feedback to the other person in a positive way. How do you deal with that in that scenario?

EMILY: Well that is what the beauty of this group is. So, it’s a very small group so students feel very safe. A typical group will have 8 children and 2 facilitators. There are group rules that is set up at the beginning of each session. So, although their session is very fun and interactive, there are things that you just don’t negotiate on and that you hold very firm to. And that’s the fabric that holds the group together because children feel safe and respected and they know their rights.

Children in this group feel such a sense of success and belonging but they might not feel in many other places. They’re the sort of kids that you will see feedback until you have to tell them to stop when other teachers may not experience that. So, it is amazing the way you see these kids in this group that may not be typical of how they’d perform in other areas of their life. This is a chance for them to be an expert and for them to have success. So often they will feedback, if they don’t, we know those kids because it’s a small group and we will question them in a very informal way. Ask them “What did you think about that? Did you like it the way they did this? What would you have done instead? How do you think the other person will be feeling if you said ‘Hello’ like that?” And then, they just have to give their opinion or if they don’t want to, that’s fine. We don’t force them to.

DEBRA: So how do we translate something like that into, I suppose, everyday family life? Do you think we can do that?

EMILY: I really do and that’s the beauty of it. Every day, family life gives you the opportunity to practice social skills, nonstop. And it’s not just everyday family life, it’s all the different ways that that branches out; visitors in the home, people that come to the door, playdates. All the people you meet through school; teachers, aunties, cousins, close friends. I really believe that the support network is so valuable and really needs to be drawn upon to educate children with additional needs and to support the parents.

DEBRA: So, on a day to day basis for me, if I’m dealing with my daughter, do I then sit down with her and talk about who’s coming to visit, what she should do, what she’s supposed to say?

EMILY: Absolutely and I think instantly, what I hear you say.. (it’d be interesting to see if you heard yourself say it) but you say ‘Should I tell her what to do? Should I tell her what to say?’ And my answer is never give them the answer. And when I say them, all of children. And it drives my children crazy because they will ask me a question and I never give them the answer. And that maybe something really simple like one of them said today “Mum, 60 seconds is a minute and 60 minutes is an hour, what’s 60 hours?” And I said, “What do you think 60 hours is?” And their answer is “Ahh, you’re making me do maths.”

So, in that situation you would say with your daughter, “Okay, we’ve got this person coming tonight” and that’s the part I love. You always give them as much warning and time to prepare as you can. “So, we’ve got this person coming to dinner tonight, what do you think you’ll say when he gets to the door? What’s a nice to make that person feel welcomed? What things might you talk about at dinner time?” And that gives them the opportunity to do the thinking and then, to get the answer, to tell you the answer and to me, that’s a little success for them. And the more little opportunities they have at that these successes, to feel good about themselves and to grow a bit confidence and independence and then their social skills, it just is such a bonus for them.

DEBRA: Builds on independence which is the aim of the exercise really, isn’t it?

EMILY: It does and that independence grows from such a young age and I do believe that it’s not about getting to an age of independence and saying “Okay, well now we have to give you these skills.” I really believe that these children are self-contained, capable beings right from the beginning that why wouldn’t we start giving them these tools and language and letting them know these social rules as early as we can because all of that will improve on their confidence throughout their life which leads to be an easier transition to independence.

DEBRA: So, you mentioned some stories of success, can you give me just one that you can think of where you’ve seen someone develop those skills and how they did that?

EMILY: One idea that I talked about with Noni Le Messurier who I explained before is Mark Le Messurier’s daughter. They have their own business of running these courses along with all of the other amazing things that they do such as mentoring students, performing public speaking and their program is in many different countries now as well. So they are very talented and have a lot of expertise and skill.

I spoke to her once because we were running a social skill group for teenagers in a high school and that was one of my favorite groups. I loved it. And it was the same social skills course that you can do with children in primary school and all of these children had additional needs. Sometimes, multiple additional needs which, you know, were more complex than some of the other kids. So, they have varying degrees of tools that they were already using and already knew about.

So again, one of the successes was seeing them throughout that group; developing connections, laughing, making jokes, getting up and having a go, being able to speak to adults and having a positive, fun, successful social group that they belong to. That’s already a success to me. At the end, when you have the party and you give them their certificates and they’re so proud and they get up and they shake your hand and they look at you in the face and everyone claps for them. It’s just such beautiful moment.

And I said to Noni once we’re exploring ways of how to take this out into the real world and Noni was already doing some of the things that I would really love to do. In a group of 19-year old’s, her party in the end would be in a restaurant with these kids and they would be ordering for themselves, eating in a socially acceptable way in a restaurant, behaving in a socially acceptable way and really feeling independent, growing up and like all fitting in. And that’s a really beautiful picture for me and I think that’s one of the examples of real-life situations that has endless opportunities.

DEBRA: I’m getting from you that you’re almost saying that rather than be teaching them, they have to find themselves in a way through facilitation as opposed to teaching?

EMILY: I think facilitation is brilliant and that goes along with my love of group therapy, which I guess, is a facilitating model. So that’s why I’m passionate about it and also, because of my social work background and being interested in coaching, it all comes back to that role as a facilitator. I’m passionate about being a facilitator. Someone else may feel the same way about teaching. So I guess it’s different styles for different people. I love facilitating because I think the answers sits with them and makes more of an impact and impression if they arrive at that moment themselves. Because I feel like it for them it’s fitting a piece of a puzzle and I feel like they get an instant buzz of success and excitement which makes them feel good about themselves, so that’s why I like the facilitation.

DEBRA: And the whole purpose and the focus of independence is being able to make decisions, yourself. So, I guess, if you start younger or if you’ve given better training to make decisions yourself, you would be better at being able to make decisions on the run in a way because I think that’s always a concern with additional needs children. Independence is what happens when the scenario doesn’t really fit what they’ve learned. Because they learn a script but what happens when it doesn’t fit and if they’ve got problem-solving skills, what you’re saying is they’ll be able to think of the way around that rather than just standing there going ‘No idea what I should be doing there’.

EMILY: That’s right. And part of that scenario is them having confidence and I see the confidence being a big part of that because it’s trusting themselves and if you have that relationship where you’re facilitator or a mentor or a coach, then you have all these opportunities to then talk about that scenario. To say, if your daughter had a mentor and she went out into the world and she had a script and it went wrong and something happened, regardless of how it turned out, hopefully, there are lots of ways that it can turn out that aren’t a disaster or aren’t that bad or aren’t irreversible. So then she can come back to that mentor or coach and talk about that situation and you can listen as a coach or a mentor, you can either laugh about it with her, or get horrified out with her or talk about how it made her feel, how she reacted whether or not that gave her the outcome she was looking for, if not, what would she do differently next time?

DEBRA: So, you’re suggesting that the parents if they wanted to find someone, maybe in the family, maybe outside the family to be like mentor or a coach?

EMILY: I think the role of mentor and coach with these children is so important and this is where you come up against the problem of your access to funding and money and you know sometimes these things do cost money and these people do cost money. But I think that’s a really good idea and I do think that’s possible to look amongst your friends and family and extended family to see if there’s someone that can fit that role.

DEBRA: So, their role would be almost again a sounding board but not a parent.

EMILY: And not a counselor. I think parents are often in this role all the time.

DEBRA: Perfecto because they’re their closest.

EMILY: That’s right. And they’re having these conversations and these discussions. If that’s a skill that they don’t already have, maybe that’s one that they can try and learn how to do that in the most effective way for their child and that can be done very simply as well. It’s about asking the right questions.

DEBRA: From a personal point of view would find that I think difficult in ways because as a parent I sort of I suppose worried and concerned and my immediate reaction to something going wrong would be “Oh no!”. But I wonder if someone who was a little bit further away might be a little bit more “Oh well, nothing terrible happened, it’s okay!” I think one of my reactions might be that “You’re never leaving the house again” or “You’re never catching a bus” And I can’t speak for other parents but I can imagine that might be my response.

EMILY: Well I think that’s a personality-type response in terms of we all bring out our own personalities to being a parent and this is true of all parents. So, some of us worry more than others and certainly, I can see that side of it and what I would say is you don’t just have one mentor or coach in your life. You can do it around scenarios that you feel comfortable with and you would do it every day of your daughter’s life anyway but you don’t have to be the only one. So, there are situations where your daughter might be best off speaking to someone else that’s a bit more removed rather than you. So, it doesn’t always have to be you and only you. You would do it every day in a positive way and a helpful way, anyway.

DEBRA: I think there’s also the practical things of being a parent that sometimes get in the way of that. And I think I’m finding by talking to you though, I’m getting the idea that a mentor or someone that she could talk to slightly away from her parents and her sort of core family might be a useful tool for her.

EMILY: Absolutely.

DEBRA: As she tries to become more independent and maybe doesn’t feel that she can tell us certain things because she’s a teenager.

EMILY: Exactly. And she shouldn’t have to and she deserves that privacy. Absolutely! And yes, ideally, if they do have access to someone like that, I think that’s such an invaluable tool and I think that person is there to celebrate those milestones and trying to overcome those challenges and those experiments. It’s about being non-judgmental. It’s about laughter and encouragement and celebrating these successes but also definitely knowing what the non-negotiables are and teaching these kids what the non-negotiables are. So, teaching always has a part in it but it’s being able to know the difference between that. There are no negotiables that you want these kids to know to protect them and that’s very important. And that can still be done.
DEBRA: Whilst giving them some freedom to…well you have freedom to make mistakes, don’t you?

EMILY: Everyone does.

DEBRA: We all learn from making our mistakes.

EMILY: We all learn from making our mistakes. We all make mistakes and it’s about knowing those non-negotiables social rules because there are some that are non-negotiable and then there are some that are negotiable.

DEBRA: But I can imagine parents listen to this and going, “Well it’s fine that my child knows those social rules but when they get out into society, there are other social rules about making fun of people” and things like that. So those little victories become harder to get.

EMILY: And that happens all the way through life, doesn’t it? And with children, certainly, I’ve seen that in a lot of school that I worked at because that was a mainstream school and on the whole, it was quite a protected school, so I saw a lot of positive social interaction, acceptance, patience from the other students which was so lovely to see. I believe the environment became that way because of the language of the teachers and the role models within that school that make it a universal language and a community language. But of course, doesn’t everyone come across that in life.

DEBRA: But again what you said about emotional intelligence and a script and confidence and building resilience, as well.

EMILY: And I believe you build resilience through having achievable goals set throughout that you can face the challenge and overcome the challenge. That builds your resilience. Certainly, my children and even in me, we get a lot of these challenges in our life and the trick is not to avoid these challenges or to have a life where you don’t find challenges. The challenge part is fine. We’re all going to have that. We’re all going to come across that. It’s meeting that challenge, how you make that challenge and overcome that challenge and grow and learn from that challenge. That’s what builds resilience.

DEBRA: Is that your sort of top tip for anyone then? Build resilience? What would be your top sort of tip for someone in my situation who has a teenager who wants to build these independent skills, what should I be doing?

EMILY: I would be practicing. I would be using everyday scenario as a practice. The important words that come to mind are confidence, resilience and success. And when I say success, I mean those little moments that something happens where they show their new skill that they’ve learned or they practiced their new skill or they get a good result and it turns out in a way that makes them feel good. That’s a really lovely success. So celebrate all the little successes. There are so many moments for those. And catch them and praise them and celebrate them because they’re the building blocks.

So an example of that might be if you’re at the shops with your daughter and your daughter greets the person behind the teal when says a really appropriate comment for that social situation not of ‘What are you having for dinner tonight? Or what’s your mother’s name?’ (I’m just being silly) But there many things that you can say that don’t fit that situation. Kids with additional needs sometimes say these things as to our own children without additional needs.

So, if your daughter would see this woman behind the teal or man at the shopping center and says, “Oh, it’s raining outside, did you know that?” or “Nice day today, isn’t it?” or “Hello, how are you?”. Anything that fits that situation. That’s an opportunity for a success and when you walk away, it might be a quick comment of “That was a really great question” or “Well done for the way that you spoke. You were clear, you had a nice tone on your voice and you had a smile on your face. That was really friendly behavior!” So, you just focus on a couple of details that were appropriate to the situation and that match that social situation and you catch him in that moment and you praise them and you encourage your child and you celebrate that success together.

DEBRA: Can we quick talk about the books that you’ve been talking about? Do you think they’re worth parents having a read through? Maybe looking up things online they can look at? Maybe we can link to… because not everyone will have access to those workshops if you’re probably not in Australia. And what you’ve been saying is all been really useful and interesting, but is there resources that I could get, other parents could get just to just sort of link to and have a think about tactics really because the tools are obviously there but often we don’t know the tactics. So you’ve told me some really useful things about how I should be praising little victories, but are there other sort of resources? Are they worth reading those books for the layperson?

EMILY: I think so. I just love the simplicity and accessibility of these resources. Now accessible but also it’s another book and a another link and there are so many out there. If you want to learn a particular thing, you can go online and you can learn it from everything that’s available to you whether or not it be free or you pay for it. It’s about collecting all of these bits of knowledge and maybe collecting bits of advice or tips or learning from experience or learning from someone else’s experience and that’s why I think that the support network is so important and communication is very important within our community of helping to raise independent children with additional needs who live happy and fulfilled lives.

So these resources that I’m looking at and that I’ve been involved in co-facilitating are on the internet and they are available for purchase. Also, you can actually do the training course because there is an online training course. Yes, you can do that online and then you’re a trained facilitator and you can take that into your school or community. So it is accessible and I definitely think it’s worth accessing because it does have the lesson, it does focus on the individual’s social skill but it also provides that information for the parents or carers after the lesson which are practical tips for you to use at home.

DEBRA: On the other hand, I can just fly to Australia and do the course.

EMILY: Absolutely, it would be a good reason. And you cannot emulate the amazing professional skill and expertise and knowledge of Mark Le Messurier and Madhavi Nawana Parker in person.

DEBRA: Are they paying you to do this?


DEBRA: So we’ll put links to the books on the show notes as well. Emily, thank you very much for your insightful information and some good tips just for me.

EMILY: You’re welcome, Debra. It’s been a pleasure.

DEBRA: So, so much to take in from this interview which makes finding a key takeaway almost impossible. So, in a very general sense, my key (and frankly rather uplifting) takeaways that it is possible to build social skills for anyone regardless of additional needs. You just have to have the right strategies in place. And I’ll be spending more time coming back to some of this advice towards the end there, celebrate those little successes and actually going out and looking for a mentor for my daughter. And also, I’ll be thinking about how I talk to her, not at her, and how I guide her, not tell her. I do hope you got as much value from this interview as I did.



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