This article, written by Susan Fell, LMSW and JoEllen Cumpata, MA, CCC-SLP, is part of Future Horizons’ Author News Series, where we feature contributions from our authors.
There are two common perspectives regarding people with autism spectrum disorders. The first suggests that the world must learn to accept, appreciate and accommodate people with autism. The second notion is that people with autism must learn to accept, appreciate and adapt to the world.
While we agree with both beliefs we have chosen to focus on the second perspective and teach those with autism to better understand and adapt to the world. As a school social worker and speech pathologist, we have seen first-hand how students with ASD struggle throughout their school day to meet educational demands while attempting to navigate the social world.
Our belief is that by providing formal social skills instruction, we can increase both academic success
and emotional wellness
for students with autism.
Students with ASD benefit from peer mentoring programs, accommodations, modifications, IEP’s and 504’s but are often missing opportunities to learn and practice key social skills. Social skills
and pragmatic language
weaknesses can negatively impact a student’s academic achievement and feelings of self-worth. We have worked with students who become so frustrated with the demands of school that they act-out aggressively, become depressed or anxious or even refuse to come to school.
English, math, science and social studies are typical subjects most parents and teachers believe are necessary for a well rounded education. However, for students with ASD learning the hidden curriculum within social and pragmatic language skills, may be even more important. Without basic social skills students struggle to participate in group learning, work with peers, express themselves appropriately and manage their frustration and emotion. Unfortunately formalized social skills instruction is often overlooked in both public and private education.
To respond to this vital need we published the QUEST Program II Social Skills Curriculum for Middle School Students with Autism. Our second book, QUEST Program I Social Skills Curriculum for Elementary School Students with Autism is currently in its final publishing stages and will be available soon.
QUEST provides teachers, social workers, speech pathologists and others an affordable, research-based, read to use social skills curriculum. Students meet in a small group setting to read experiential stories, practice with games, activities, and role play. Some of the topics covered are School Survival Basics, Managing Emotions, Communication, and Making Friends and Interacting with Peers. We have seen such wonderful benefits for students as they meet others with similar perspectives, learn and try new skills, have a safe setting to share their experiences and ask questions.
Over the past 15 years our groups have grown to include students with ADHD, anxiety, and cognitive impairments. Parents have asked that their child participate for a second year in QUEST after they have seen the benefits both in school and at home. We continue to encourage parents and colleagues to develop a formal social skills instruction program at their school. It is our hope that formal social skills instruction will soon become the norm for many students.
JoEllen Cumpata, M.A., CCC-SLP, and Susan Fell, LMSW, are the co-authors of the Quest Program books, which are available for pre-order in the Future Horizons book store individually and as a combo package.
Near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? Hear JoEllen and Susan speak, along with Dr. Raun Melmed and Eustacia Cutler (Temple Grandin's mom) on November 13! Click here to learn more.