Assessment of Social Skills

Social Cognition

Social cognitive thinking has to do with the ability to perceive one’s own mind and the minds of others. It has to do with the observing self – the ability to recognize one’s own behavior and what it means.[26]

Social cognition also has to do with perceiving others’ behavior and what that means. This involves to a large extent interpreting the emotional signals of others moment to moment – the essence of dynamic social functioning (see Dynamic Systems, above).

And finally, it has to do with knowledge of what other people know, their beliefs, and how they’re likely to be feeling.

Theory of Mind

“Theory of Mind” has mainly to do with how the IP tracks ‘minds.’  In a classic experiment, the IP observes her mother put a candy bar in a drawer. Mother then leaves the room. Once she’s gone, the experimenter moves the candy bar to another (2nd) drawer and then asks the IP, “Where will Mommy look for the candy bar?”  The IP who lacks this basic level of theory of mind will point to the 2nd drawer.

Knowledge is only one hidden mental component — belief is another. In one situation, a person might see the Student but believe that the Student is waving their toy out of fun, in another, to get their attention. As in the above situation two physically equivalent situations exist that both give rise to two different responses: in one the adult ignores them, and in the other they stop and play.

A further hidden mental component is desire. Consider, for instance, one situation where an adult is tired with playing with the Student, contrasted with another, where this is still a source of enjoyment. Here again, we have two equivalent situations into which a Student emits the same behavior but gets two different reactions, in one the adult makes a moan of ‘not again,’ and in the other they stop and join them.

What these examples show is that children must uncover the existence of hidden components — a person’s knowledge, beliefs and desires — if they are to understand how that person reacts to them. Much fragmentary information exists around them that can be used to do this. Though the initial situations have been described as equivalent they, of course, are not.

In the first, a slight difference exists in the position of the adult that enables them to see or not see the Student.

In the second, a history of encounters between the adult and the Student exist such as to give grounds for the adult to believe that the Student enjoys waving the toy (in the manner in which they have done) vs. waving the toy to get attention.

In the third, a history exists of how the adult reacts to the attempts of the Student to get their attention to play with them.

Thus the hidden mental components in these equivalent situations are detectable provided a Student possesses models that enable them to predict the interactions of their actions with a person’s knowledge, beliefs and desires. If so, the Student is set up with models as to what the adult knows, believes and desires in relation to their actions. Further, it is set up to engage in what might called ‘forensic cognition’ so that it can keep such models up to date by being highly sensitive to the subtle cues and inferences that indicate changes occurring in the hidden state of the other’s mind.

Social Interaction with Adults other than Attachment Figures

This has to do with how far the IP’scircles of care extend. Think of concentric circles:

Concentric Circles of Care

As a IP develops means (universal enough) to communicate with unfamiliar people, and has also developed means of communicating details of events outside of the here and now, he or she becomes ready and able to take part in groups that are increasingly distant from the caregiver.  In contrast, the IP whose communication is difficult to interpret, or whose ability to read the emotional and communicative signals of only the most familiar caregivers – feels very vulnerable under the care of others. This can be seen in the light of developmental age. Once the IP has developed stranger anxiety (around 8 or 9 months), she becomes reluctant to spend time outside the immediate proximity of caregivers.

Interaction with Siblings/Peers

This is particularly important when the referral issues concern sibling or peer play and conflict.  Otherwise, a lengthy discussion here would likely be redundant with the means of emotional problem solving and play sections below.

Here are a few generalized characteristics of sibling relationships you can use to describe them:

Indifferent

Siblings have almost nothing to do with the client. Interactions tend to be brief, intermittent, instrumental, or even hostile. Siblings might prefer to go directly to the adult without even trying to interact directly with the Student (e.g., “Mom, Jenna ate took my Barbie!”).

Caretaking

Siblings see themselves as support for the Guides, and much of their interaction with the sibling concerns supervision, assistance, entertaining, etc. – much like what the Guides do. This is not unusual as time goes on and the difference between the developmental age of the client and his siblings grows larger.

Comment on the rare case when the sibling has too much (inappropriate levels of) responsibility. This of course is relative to the age of the sibling. Some siblings are adults themselves or older teenagers, and the level of supervision they have is commensurate with their capacity and willingness to care for the client.

Conflicted

Conflict is a predominant feature of the sibling relationship(s).

Caring for a disabled person tends to usurp time and energy that could be more evenly distributed among siblings and spouses. People with disabilities can have much more in the way of doctor appointments, therapy appointments, and other obligations inside and outside the home, as well as possibly extensive behavioral needs and a prolonged extension of levels of care and supervision expected with very young children. This is one reason we put emphasis on the analysis of caregiving arrangements and support.

When such a lopsided caregiving situation exists, certain effects can be anticipated over a period of time. The first has to do with parental anxieties. Not only do Caregivers wonder and fear for what would happen to the disabled person if something were to happen to them, they acknowledge that one individual (the IP) receives the vast majority of their energy and attention – and they worry how it affects their other children.  This further debilitates them emotionally, which can lead to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anger, and depression in the absence of adequate emotional support.

Another typical effect is a sense of loss and rejection on the part of siblings. Most are too young to understand the logic and exigency of the situation, which can breed similar feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anger, and depression in children.

Conflict takes on a wide variety of forms, but here are some pretty common ones:

Tattling

Comment on this if it is a pervasive problem. If it is a referral concern targeted for intervention, you can refer to the part of your report where you analyze it in more detail. If that is the case, then simply mention that it is a pervasive problem, or whether or not tattling predominates sibling relationship (as in the “Indifferent” category above). Your comments can include descriptions of form and speculations of function – but you need not repeat information you will cover in another section.

Acting Out

Frustration and anger are feelings that motivate acting out behavior. Describe the forms of behavior that seem to be related to such feelings. Also, describe what the factors are that frustrate the siblings most. In the case of frustration or anger, what is typically observed is behavior resultant from the accumulation of stress and implicit feelings that have long been percolating underground. These feelings are punctuated by more acute feelings and boiling points that result from individual episodes in the present.

Social Interaction with Peers

If social interaction with peers is a primary referral concern, then it is only necessary to introduce the topic by describing some forms of the behavior (e.g. withdrawal from peers; indifference; hostility or aggression, etc.), and then refer to your more detailed description below.

If relevant, use this section to describe differences between the Student’s interactions at home with caregivers and siblings, or even familiar friends, and how she does in the much more fluid and dynamic settings of peer groups, playgrounds, and large family gatherings. It is very typical to see a pattern in children with PDDs a pattern of relative comfort, affection, and two-way interaction with the Student’s small circle of familiar partners, rather than people outside the home. This is of course due to the exponentially increased requirement for emotional referencing and signaling in fluid, multiple peer settings, or with less familiar peers.