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Is there any technology that could help a child learn social skills? My nephew has been diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder and struggles with social skills and behavioral issues. My sister battles with him daily to get him to go to school and the school administration has recently suggested that he learn from home using an on-line program.

Though he is receiving medication for his anxiety, his social skills have really suffered. Learning from home might help with his anxiety, but how will that help him improve his social skills? Is there technology out there that might help him?

Most people learn social skills simply by watching the way their friends and family interact. But some people may struggle with learning how to behave in social situations. This could be because of a disability that makes it difficult to recognize non-verbal cues and social rules; others, like your nephew, may struggle because anxiety prevents them from engaging in the types of interactions that would allow them to practice social skills.

In either case, individuals who struggle with social skills need opportunities to engage in social interactions and practice appropriate behavior. Because social skills can be difficult for some individuals to learn, it is important to have plenty of chances to practice in a variety of different situations.

It may be a good idea for your sister to speak with her son’s teachers, as well as school counselors and special educators. They may recommend that your nephew work with an Occupational Therapist or school counselor on a social skills program.

It can also be helpful for family members to help out with social skills practice. You can find a number of suggestions for teaching social skills in Practicing Social Skills: How to Teach Your Student Social Interactions. There are also a variety of resources available in the Behavior and Social Skills section of this website.

Technology solutions may also be appropriate for your nephew. One benefit of using technology to give social skills practice is that students can engage in an interaction — like asking a classmate for something appropriately — a number of times until they get it right.

In real life situations, students often only get one chance to interact appropriately. A variety of multimedia tools are available that can be helpful in teaching appropriate social interactions; you can find suggestions in Multimedia Instruction of Social Skills(opens in a new window).

One important thing to keep in mind is that research has shown that students learn social skills best when they learn them in a real-life situation and in a variety of different formats. So an ideal social skill program for your nephew might include work with teachers at school to practice school-based interactions (working with a partner, hand-raising, asking to borrow rather than taking, etc.), work with family and friends to practice outside interactions (riding public transportation, responding to adults, getting along with siblings, etc.) and the use of technology tools for additional practice.

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