When most people think of social skills they think of things like not burping in public or saying “excuse me”. And while both things fall within the realm of social skills, they are but a mere piece of social competency. Social skills are made up of hundreds if not thousands of unwritten rules. They are the verbal and non-verbal cues that we depend on to navigate our way through all of our social interactions.
Social Interactions Are Extremely Complex
Not only must a child be aware of his own thoughts and actions but he must also be aware of the thoughts and actions of others. This is true of any situation in which there are two or more people. They do not need to speak in order to interact with one another.
Consider if one child is sitting alone reading. If a new child walks into the room how does the new child know if he should say hello? What does it mean if the first child never looks up and draws his book closer? What does it mean if the child looks up, smiles and then looks back down at his book without saying a word? What if he holds his gaze and does not look down? How does the environment effect the actions of the first child? Are the rules different in a library versus a cafeteria?
Easy for Some Confusing for Others
For most people these situations would be relatively easy to understand. They would be able to navigate these situations with little if any conscious thought.
However for someone who lacks social understanding these seemly simple interpretations of other people’s actions are very confusing.
You are able to interpret other people’s actions, motives and inferences because you have something called theory of mind and perspective taking. Those are two of the areas that children with social skills deficits have problems. To put it another way, they lack the ability to see things from other people’s point of view and understand that other people have thoughts, beliefs and desires that drive their actions.
Fortunately social skills can be taught.