How to Teach Social Skills to Students with Behavioral Disorders

Appropriate social skills help students succeed in classroom environments, develop healthy friendships, and build other critical personal relationships. Simply learning fundamental interpersonal skills like articulate speech, attentive observation, and active listening can give individuals many advantages in their careers and personal lives. Behavioral disorders that impact a student’s ability to develop core social skills require a professional with a background in behavior analysis to actively engage with students and provide consistent positive and constructive feedback.

Hands-on Social Skill Intervention

With autism spectrum disorder (ASD), an individual may exhibit an inability to appropriately comprehend and react to moderately complex or even basic social situations. Similarly, individuals with emotional and behavioral disorders frequently display disruptive and inappropriate social behaviors. To counter the impact of these disorders on an individual’s ability to participate in social groups, behavioral analysts have developed several hands-on approaches that rely on identifying negative social behaviors and correcting them with targeted techniques.

These techniques include teaching, modeling, and practicing proper social skills while also offering strategic reinforcement and consistent performance-based feedback. A study published by Springer Science+Business Media and conducted by several collaborating behavior researchers used these methods of social intervention and produced fascinating results. The study was primarily focused on students with emotional and behavioral disorders and relied on a five-step process that taught students how to improve their social skills. The following five steps were used in the study:

  1. Stop and Think
  2. Identification of Good and Bad Choices
  3. Identification of the Steps to Perform a Good Choice
  4. Implementation of the Steps to a Good Choice
  5. Reflection on the Good Choices

While teaching students these measures of self-correction can be highly beneficial, it is the responsibility of educators to identify the students who are lacking in specific areas of social ability. After identifying the students who need more attention, educators can use role-playing as a personal way of directly training their social skills.

By observing the role-play of other students while interacting with their peers and teachers, students with lacking social skills are more likely to pick up on the more nuanced components of socializing. To create an atmosphere in which these students feel connected to one another, it is also recommended that educators initiate regular classroom meetings or discussions. Through these meetings, students with behavioral disorders may find a sense of community, inspiring them to actively participate in group conversations.


Other flexible measures of intervention can include encouraging journaling and providing access to media that offers specific instruction for developing social skills. Learning how to write in a journal can help students sharpen their ability to articulate their own thoughts and experiences. The writing skills developed through consistent journaling can be applied in real-world situations beyond the classroom. These situations may require discussing events, or expressing emotions or thoughts. Implementing a regimented journaling program in classrooms can help students with behavioral disorders improve their social skills.

Video Modeling

Simple forms of media like interactive videos and audio can serve as a valuable tool for enhancing a student’s core social skills. With many researchers studying the effectiveness of video modeling for teaching social skill development, video has been receiving more attention lately.

One type of video modeling, video prompting, requires the student to watch a model perform specific tasks, but not in their entirety. Self-modeling, on the other hand, requires the student to act as a model and then watch a video of themselves performing a task appropriately.

Video modeling has been shown to help students improve across behavioral categories such as initiating conversations, making validating statements, and giving socially appropriate gestures. This method of social skill instruction has gained traction due to the relative ease of creating, editing, and replaying an educational video using mobile devices. Videos can be viewed by an entire class or on an individual basis and students can be observed, recorded, and given feedback within a short period of time.

Some students diagnosed with behavioral disorders or ASD may find it challenging to grasp key social skills. While it is possible for students with behavioral disorders to master these skills, the overall process requires time and consistent effort, and some students may become frustrated with their gradual progress.

However, when educators are attentive to their students’ educational needs, and when they utilize key teaching resources and tools such as video modeling or journaling, they can help these students achieve their personal goals in a timely and efficient fashion. To develop a deeper understanding of how to strategize an effective intervention plan, educators should make an effort to stay up to date on the latest methods of behavioral analysis.

Learn More with UC Online

Want to discover how you can make a difference in the behavior analysis world? Then let the University of Cincinnati help you. With an online Master of Education in Foundations in Behavior Analysis program, you can elevate your behavioral career.

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