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Guide to Developing the Social Skills of Children with Disabilities

Posted on July 13, 2019 by Ann

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Mary is a 15 year old female. She communicates well and is good at her studies. She likes to make friends and take care of others. However, she often gets into conflicts with her peers because she frequently makes unpleasant remarks at them. In addition, whenever her peers or teachers give her constructive feedback, she is rude towards them. Sometimes, she fights with her peers over some disagreements.

What are social skills?

Social skills are a set of rules that people use to interact and communicate with each other. Good social skills are important as they help us to establish relationships and encourage behaviours that are age-appropriate and culturally acceptable. Social skills include verbal and non-verbal communications, personal coping skills, and interpersonal interactions.

How do I know if my child lacks social skills?

If your child struggles to fit in with other children of similar age, s/he may lack some of the social skills.

Why does my child need to learn social skills?

Typically, we learn social rules and etiquette through communicating and interacting with others. Persons with intellectual disability may have difficulties learning social rules and adapting to different social environments. For example, s/he may start to behave aggressively if s/he is not able to get his/her message across. An individual who has difficulty saying no to his/her peers may give in to peer pressure and engage in risky behaviours.

How can my child improve his/her social skills?

Social skills can be learned. The following methods, which are often used in school or vocational settings, can also be adapted to the home environment.

1. Social stories

Social stories help your child understand social situations they find confusing and allow them to handle these situations more effectively. A social story usually includes a description of the situation such as the possible emotions the people are feeling and also what your child is expected to do in response to that situation. Visual aids may accompany social stories to enhance understanding.

In Mary’s case, her parents can use a social story to explain appropriate behaviour with her teachers. They can explain that the teachers’ feedback is their way of showing concern for her. She should be advised to listen to what her teachers have to say and thank them for their concerns.

2. Modeling

Modeling occurs when you demonstrate the appropriate behaviour to your child. This is particularly useful for children who have difficulty understanding verbal instructions.

In Mary’s case, her parents have to explain what she can say to her friends and how to behave in different situations.

3. Role-playing

Role-playing provides your child with hands-on experience in handling difficult situations. Your child gets to practice different roles in a safe environment. Role-playing is particularly useful in teaching persons with intellectual disability about personal safety, conflict management and social skills.

In Mary’s case, her parents could try role-playing with her to allow her to experience how her peers might feel if she makes unpleasant remarks at them.

4. Play

Through play, your child learns to onteract with others and receive feedback about appropriate and inappropriate social behaviours. Play is therefore an essential component in the acquisition of social skills.


MINDS is an All In Preferred Partner.

Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) is one of the largest Voluntary Welfare Organisations in Singapore, serving some 2,400 clients from past the age of six to their ripe old age. MINDS’ services include four special schools, three employment development centres, three day training and development centres, and one multi-service residential home.

This guide was originally published by MINDS’ Allied Health Professionals unit and republished with minor editorial amendments by All In.

All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Guide to Activities of Daily Living Skills (ADL)

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