GROUP THERAPY FOR CHILDREN WITH SOCIAL SKILLS DEFICITS: AN OUTCOME STUDY
To determine the efficacy of a group therapy curriculum developed for the children in the T.L.C. program at Devereux Glenholme. The T.L.C. program is the residential program for children ages five to nine. The goal of the group curriculum is to enhance social skills such as initiating interactions, maintaining eye contact, giving positive feedback to others, and accepting feedback from others.
Participants were ten male children aged 7 to 9. Children were selected based on their cottage assignment within the T.L.C. program.
Data was collected for the two weeks preceding group therapy, and again for two weeks in the middle of the eight-week curriculum. Data was collected via observation during meal times and play times. A total of eight 10-minute observations were collected for each participant before the onset of group and again at the midpoint of the group. All variables were measured by frequency counts. Data was collected by an undergraduate research assistant who was not blind to the hypotheses of the study, but was blind to the content and portions of the group curriculum that had been covered prior to the second set of observations.
- Maintaining Interactions: Maintaining positive conversation or play with others.
- Eye Contact: Having eye contact with others when interacting in conversation.
- Initiating Conversation with Others: Showing an interest in socializing and getting involved in a conversation by making appropriate comments to others. Inviting others to join in an activity or conversation. Joining a group conversation. Asking others for their opinion and sharing thoughts and ideas.
- Giving Positive Feedback to Others: Giving appropriate compliments to others. Guiding others or giving positive suggestions to help them.
- Accepting Positive Feedback from Others: Listening to helpful suggestions without getting upset. Doing something asked of them in a responsible way. Thanking someone for giving them advice.
Data were analyzed using paired-sample t-tests comparing the children’s frequency of target behaviors before the initiation of group and again after the first four weeks of the four-week group curriculum. No significant differences were found between the children’s rate of initiating conversations, accepting feedback from others, or maintaining conversations before group and five weeks into group. These findings are not entirely surprising, as initiating conversations and maintaining conversations had not yet been covered in the group curriculum. Accepting feedback from others was covered within the first four weeks; thus the lack of significance for this variable indicates that the curriculum for this week might need to be altered.
Children were significantly more likely to utilize appropriate eye contact when interacting with peers after the first four weeks of the group curriculum (t(9)=4.11, p<.01). A trend was also found for children to be more likely to give positive feedback to peers after the first four weeks of group (t(9)=1.92, p=.09).
Frequency of behaviors
Glenholme has recently added a social skills group therapy curriculum to the T.L.C. residential program. The purpose of the present study was to assess the efficacy of this group curriculum in order to determine whether the group should be provided to other cottages within the T.L.C. program.
The current study indicates that the social skills group is having some of the intended effects. Namely that children’s eye contact is improved after four weeks in group therapy. Eye contact is a skill that is stressed in each of the group sessions. A trend was also found for children to give feedback to their peers more frequently after the first four weeks of group. This skill is covered in the second and third sessions, titled “Giving Compliments” and “Giving Constructive Criticism”. The fact that a trend was found for an increase in this behavior is impressive given the lack of statistical power with such a small sample size.
It is noteworthy that no changes were found in children’s frequency of initiating conversations, accepting feedback from others, or maintaining conversations. As discussed above, two of these behaviors were not yet covered in the group curriculum, thus they were not expected to increase. Given that the rater was blind to the content of the groups that were covered, these findings might be considered as a check on the validity of the study. Namely, two of the three variables that were hypothesized to increase did so, and the two that were not hypothesized to increase did not. Accepting feedback from others was hypothesized to increase, however, no significant difference was found between the children’s frequency of accepting feedback before or four weeks into group. This suggests that the content of this session, “Accepting Suggestions”, might need to be revised.
A useful application of this study to Devereux Glenholme is that it provides feedback that the groups appear to be effective in enhancing some social skills. The groups will therefore be continued with other cottages in the T.L.C. program. Based on the feedback from this study, the group curriculum is currently being modified to be developmentally appropriate to the youngest cottage in T.L.C.