Social Interaction Skills

What Are Social Interaction Skills?

Well-developed social interaction skills are critical for developing positive self-esteem, building relationships, and ultimately for acceptance into society. To communicate effectively with others, establish friendships, positive social relationships, and be perceived as likable, a person must demonstrate good social skills.

Inherent in social interaction are the verbal or signed expressive and receptive language skills required to converse. Understanding and using nonverbal communication skills—the nuances of facial expressions and body language—are also critical social skills to convey different emotions and feelings.

Social interaction skills are essential for engaging with others, yet, much of the content in this area is typically learned through casual observation of others. Because children who are blind or low vision are unable to observe how others interact and engage socially casually, they need systematic and purposeful instruction to learn social skills.

Why Teach Social Interaction Skills as a Specific Area?

Research has shown that youth with blindness or low vision are at risk in social skills. They also tend to have smaller networks of friends and acquaintances.

Research also showed significant relationships between youth who are blind or low vision engaging in social activities and being employed. The importance of children and adolescents with blindness or low vision participating in structured learning of social skills is supported in research, and these activities can and should be supported by families, the TVI, school staff, and service providers.

Infants and Toddlers

Humans begin to learn social skills in infancy. For young children, social development focuses on bonding and communicating effectively with parents, caregivers, and other significant people in the child’s life.

Infants and toddlers with blindness or low vision may give their caregivers different cues for attention than those given to parents by sighted children. For example, rather than making lots of noise when anticipating a parent’s approach, your child may become quiet as they listen for the parent to feed them, change their diapers, comfort them, or play. Sighted parents might mistake this quieting as an indication that the child wants to rest or that the infant is not bonding when it may indicate just the opposite.

Primary caregivers of infants with blindness or low vision must learn a different “social dance” to communicate effectively with the child. Instead of visual cues and eye contact, these interactions use hearing, touch, smell, and taste to establish social connections. These children benefit from caregivers providing auditory descriptions and cues, such as speaking to explain what’s happening before touching the baby or bringing food to the child’s mouth.

The parent may also want to hum, whistle, or make other pleasant noises when approaching the child’s room to let the child know someone’s coming.

Interactions with family members in the first three years of life set the course for a child’s social development. Therefore, early intervention is especially important as parents of newborns with visual impairments learn to cope with their feelings about having a child with a visual disability.

Understanding Behaviors

Teaching parents how to read their child’s behaviors can help prevent difficulties later. Parents may need to be encouraged to use touch as a substitute for visual cues like smiling; for example, massage or cuddling while rocking and a soothing voice may be more rewarding for the child than things they can’t see. The critical thing is for parents and other caregivers to bond with the child so that they feel safe and loved.

Elementary Age

As children mature, their siblings and other children will play an important role in their social development. For example, siblings and peers might teach children with blindness or low vision skills such as turn-taking and social interactions as they pretend to play or play games: “Watch this,” and “Did you see that!?!”

For elementary-aged children, social skills development moves from building relationships within the family to developing relationships with others: classmates and friends, teachers, or adults in schools and community settings.

Middle School and Beyond

By the time children have entered middle, junior high, and high school, the expectation is that they know the most common social rules for the community in which they live. This means that children and adolescents with blindness or low vision need to have learned most of the basic social skills to enable them to achieve their social goals.

At this stage, they will be expected to recognize social challenges, problem-solve, and resolve those difficulties. However, teachers and family members may need to provide verbal feedback about which social skills are working well and which areas may need more practice. Students with blindness or low vision may miss cues from their sighted peers or others in the community, requiring input from fully sighted friends, family, and teachers to understand the impact of their behaviors on others.

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