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Middle School Social Skills Curriculum

Sharon EiltsSharon Eilts, sharon.eilts@sesd.org, is a middle school (grades 6-8) special education teacher for students with autism spectrum disorder. I met Sharon through the Google Certified Teacher program. I have been following her discussions on social media about special needs and the use of technology so I wanted to find out more. I asked Sharon some questions about her curriculum where she graciously shared her answers with me so I could share them with you especially since it is Special Education week & Autism & ADHD Awareness month.

Q1: I am really intrigued about your social studies curriculum. Can you give me some background on the curriculum and why you developed it?
A1. Firstly, it's a social skills curriculum which I started developing because when I was transferred to the middle school, there was no established curriculum there. I learned about the people, like Michelle Garcia Winner, who have well established therapies and interventions as well as CAP (Comprehensive autism program), but I was pretty much on my own. I wanted the kids to be safe, learn how to have friends, not be bullied, and be as independent as I could help make them. I wanted others to see what these kids can do, not what they can't.

Q2. What are the Touch/Talk/Trust concepts of social distancing, boundaries, and relationship specific behaviors? What types of activities did you use to learn they concepts?
A2. Those are from the Circles I materials. I believe that is an important concept that curriculum teaches. I incorporate a variety of activities, taking concepts from various curricula. We read, discuss, role play, video appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, de sensitize for teasing and name calling, yes do worksheets too. I try to give the students as many opportunities to practice social skills in a safe environment.

Q3. Why did you have the students create comic strips using ComicLife? Were there any surprising outcomes from this activity?
A3. All students are so in tune with technology. It has been part of their lives from the beginning. I wanted the students to create a story that other students might enjoy reading. I also want them to have some anonymity which Comic Life provides. What amazed me was that there were students who had some difficulty expressing their feelings verbally, but who were able to share significant information through this medium.

Q4. What does it mean to be a "Social Thinker?"
A4. Successful social thinkers are those, in my opinion, who can manage the vagaries of complex change. My students with autism cannot which means they are able to navigate the world of consistency, rules, and regularity, but have varying degrees of difficulty with non-verbal communication, sudden unanticipated changes, or situations that cause them great internal stress.

Q5. I feel many of your lessons could benefit all children. Can you share one lesson that you feel could be adapted for all middle school children?
A5. Wow, all of them would work for middle school students. I think the activities which allow students to participate in the projects, project-based learning if you will, would be very beneficial. It give the students the opportunity to be creators of their own learning within a framework, of course. They get the chance to learn how to do things, learning the what along the way through experiences.

Sharon compiled a great list of resources with her curriculum. Here's a few of the resources: