Practicing Social Skills During the Holiday Season

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Dr. Sharon SacksHello, and happy holidays to all. My name is Dr. Sharon Sacks. I have worked in the field of education for students with visual impairments for over thirty years as a teacher of students with visual impairments, a university professor in teacher preparation for students with visual impairments and students with multiple disabilities, a school administrator, and a researcher.

Because of my own personal experiences as a person with a visual impairment, I am passionate about working with children, their teachers, and families on the acquisition of socially competent behavior. This vital area of the Expanded Core Curriculum is the key to developing friendships with peers, learning to interact with adults and others in the community, improving self-advocacy skills to make appropriate decisions, and even getting and maintaining a job as a teen or young adult.

The holidays are a perfect time for families and friends to gather together. Children with visual impairments should be expected to be part of all of the excitement and fun of the holiday season. Providing your child with opportunities to experience all the sounds, smells, tactile, and visual images of the holidays allows your child to share memories with others.

For example, giving your child opportunities to cook and bake special recipes, shop for a special gift for a friend or relative, or attend a holiday movie or show helps students to feel capable and reach beyond themselves. Also, the holiday season allows children who are blind or with low vision to practice their manners at family meals, social greetings when visiting others, and expand their ability to engage in meaningful and age-appropriate conversations.

Finally, I believe strongly that being a socially competent person means giving to others who are less fortunate. Think about having your child purchase a canned good or a toy for another person. I hope as you listen and read my interview about social skills instruction, you will use many of the ideas and strategies with your child while enjoying the beauty and joy of these winter holidays.

Social Life and Recreation
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Re: Practicing Social Skills During the Holiday Season

I have a 2 y/o with a visual impairment. He is a middle child and is surrounded by people constantly, but it still seems like he is very isolated in his play. Social skills are emerging as a very challenging obstacle right now. I do realize that as a 2 y/o he will outgrow some of his impatient behaviors, but there are some that we are beginning to realize are more permanent. Oral stimulation with toys instead of play, throwing food and cups at the dinner table, pulling hair to get my other children's attention......there are more. We really are stuck as to how to discipline. He doesn't understand the naughty corner, spanking doesn't seem like it would be effective----We are not quite sure how to go about this. Any ideas?

Re: Practicing Social Skills During the Holiday Season

Thank you for your interest in learning more about social skills. First, let me assure you that many young children with visual impairments, particularly children who may not have expressive language, exhibit similar behaviors. It is important for you to work closely with your child's educational team to reduce some of these inappropriate behaviors. Together, you can design some strategies to significantly reduce and change the unwanted behavior. For example, determining the antecedents (the actions that cause the behavior- hair pulling or throwing food) may give some clues as to what your child wants or needs. For example, when your child throws food or a cup, you might want to consider saying, "Oh, you must be done eating. Thank you for letting me know." Pair the verbal cue with removing the child's food tray or plate from the child. Your educational team can work with you to substitute these behaviors with more aceptable ones. Try to pay attention to behaviors that are positive, and ignore or redirect behaviors that are inappropriate.

Mouthing toys provides a way for your child to explore the toy or object. Because your child cannot see how the toy functions, it is important to teach the child to use or understand how the toy works. Try to find toys that your child likes and respons to in a more age-appropriate manner. Finding toys where you child can press a button or move a lever that produces a song or verbal response is usually motivating for young children with visual impairments.

Again, thank you for your interest in this topic. I hope my suggestions have helped.


Sharon Sacks

Re: Practicing Social Skills During the Holiday Season

Thank you for your response. It is always encouraging to get input. We have changed our seating arrangement at the dinner table and placed Vincent in between my husband and I, so we can encourage him to set his cup down, instead of throwing and to not throw his food----and it was amazing at how fast this worked. He has almost quit this habit entirely. I think he was feeding off of the response from his brothers and sister. It was such a simple thing too. Wish we would have tried this sooner.

Thanks again,
Krystal Stuwe

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