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REBECCA GIRARD

The Northeast Arc Spotlight Model: Drama-Based Social Skills Intervention using evidence-based Socio-dramatic, affective relational intervention (SDARI)

By | NESCA Notes 2018

By:
Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, NESCA

Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Community-Based Skills Coach, NESCA

 

This summer, NESCA piloted its first series of social pragmatics groups using the Northeast Arc Spotlight/SDARI model. We are excited to continue offering these groups in the 2018-2019 school year. Please read below to learn more about this model and whether it sounds like to fit for a child or adolescent in your life:

For those of us in the autism community, you may have noticed a lot of buzz recently around drama-based social pragmatic intervention for children on the spectrum. Perhaps this is because they provoke creativity, self-expression of participants, and are often more fun than traditional didactic models. Creating spaces for ASD individuals to practice social interactions in a semi-structured setting while providing fun and interactive activities allow for true, authentic social connection.

The Spotlight Model was originally developed in 2004 at the Northeast Arc under the clinical guidance of Dr. Matthew Lerner and Dr. Karen Levine. Since that time, Dr. Lerner has used the acronym SDARI (Socio-Dramatic Affective Relational Intervention) to describe the model in his past and current research studies. The Northeast Arc Spotlight Model was created in response to children who were not having success in traditional social skills models, and who needed something more engaging and personalized. This method was developed as a way to teach social pragmatics, as opposed to social skills.  While these terms may sound similar, the differences are vast when it comes to developing generalizable skills. Simply put, social skills consist of rote memorization, manners, active listening, and following a basic set of social rules. Social pragmatics focus on finding one’s own unique social style that is intrinsically motivating and fluid. It is the ability to effectively use communication in social situations while maintaining individuality and being able to respond to unpredictable circumstances.

What makes the Northeast Arc Spotlight Model different?

The Spotlight Model/SDARI uses a three-part model to create engaging groups that maximize the potential for ongoing friendships. Groups are formed by taking into account a number of factors, including personality, socialization style, common interests and, to a lesser degree, age and gender.

  1. Improvisation and dramatic training as social learning. Many of the skills necessary to be a confident social individual are the same skills necessary to become a successful actor. Goals such as Thinking of Your Feet, Body Language, Tone of Voice, and Someone Else’s Perceptive work on both improv and skills, dramatic training, and reciprocal scene work, as well as social competence and confidence. Improvisation’s one and only rule is “yes, and”; meaning that no matter what happens in a game/scene/activity, the participant must say, “yes” to accept what is happening and not block to flow, the “and” to build on that idea with a new one. Improv games allow groups to implicitly work on skills while laughing together, being creative, and forming lasting bonds. After all – laughter is the shortest distance between two people!
  2. Relational reinforcement. Counselors using the Northeast Arc Spotlight Model work to form trust and real relationships with participants. Each group has a head counselor, the individual responsible for creating the flow of the day, overseeing the group as a whole, and maintaining momentum. They are complemented by support counselors who check in with each child, create ways for everyone to be involved, and use strategies to help everyone feel like a contributing group member. Counselors use redirection, side-coaching, playful humor, inside jokes, and even passwords or codes. For example, during the opening meeting, the head counselor asks each participant the “question of the day” – a support counselor may sit next to a participant with slower processing to help them quietly prepare an answer before it is their turn to speak. During improvisation games, a support counselor may have a secret code word with a participant as a reminder to stay focused on the game they are playing. Participation looks different for everyone, and improv games and activities allow for a wide range of abilities and engagement.
  3. Strong use of age-appropriate motivators. The Northeast Arc Spotlight Model incorporates the use of video games, board games, and special interests to promote connection and interaction. During “break time” participants are encouraged to choose a preferred activity, as long as they are working together with a peer. This creates a space for independent conversation and interaction, with active facilitation from staff, and a way to share what they love. In addition, counselors often use a participant’s special interest to keep them engaged and excited. For example, someone who loves trains may play the game, Ask an Expert! to teach his peers about his favorite topic.

Many of our autistic friends and family thrive when their quirky humor is encouraged. Their unique perspective and disinhibited nature often lend itself to a unique and hilarious sense of humor. The Northeast Arc Spotlight Model creates a setting where children can be fully themselves, while simultaneously working to develop their social abilities. The facilitation of positive interactions and collaborative learning builds confidence and successful peer relationships.

Learn more and schedule an intake:

  • For more information about the Northeast Arc Spotlight Model groups being run at NESCA, please contact Rebecca Girard at rgirard@nesca-newton.com.
  • To learn more about the Northeast Arc in Danvers, MA, visit: ne-arc.org
  • To read more about the current efficacy of the SDARI model please visit lernerlab.com.

 

About the Authors: 
Girard

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in addition to a number of other modalities. She provides enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA as well as to provide therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her approach is child-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.

 

Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L is Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition team.

 

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Social Creativity and ASD – Challenging the assumption that autistic people are not social

By | NESCA Notes 2018

Photo from the documentary, Autism: The Musical (2007)

By: Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece titled, How to Meet Autistic People Halfway, an article that challenges the common belief that people on the autism spectrum are avoidant of social interaction and do not desire social connections. The authors, Vikram K. Jaswal and Nameera Akhtar are psychologists and researchers who study the social lives of people on the autism spectrum. They assert that while core deficits of autism may make social interaction more challenging, it does not mean people on the spectrum do not desire meaningful social connection. For years, many in the ASD community and their allies in the neurodiversity rights movement have attempted to combat this anti-social stereotype, but the notion stubbornly persists. Counter-narratives of the autistic social experience often reflect autistic people as extremely emotionally sensitive, hyper-aware of the feeling states of others, and indeed motivated to experience social success in the form of friendships and social acceptance. Additionally, an increasing number of people believe those on the spectrum may actually display more creative and interesting ways to connect and choose to describe autistic individuals as “socially creative” rather than having “social deficits”.

If we then acknowledge the desire to connect is present, how can we best facilitate social learning and promote social success? First, we can acknowledge that a person on the spectrum will have a myriad of ASD-related challenges that will likely make socializing difficult. These include trouble reading and interpreting social cues (eye contact, body language, facial expressions), attending to and managing sensory challenges during interaction, and repetitive and inflexible thinking (getting “stuck”, echolalia), all of which can lead to preemptive social rejection by peers and a lack of social opportunities to practice and improve upon their social interaction skills. These challenges require multi-disciplinary supports, including (but not limited to) occupational therapy, speech therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Second, we can provide positive social learning interventions that address and ameliorate the impact of these factors, while providing opportunities to explore and understand the social world.

A popular method of intervention is that of “social knowledge”, or didactic social skills training. This entails imparting concrete social skills, in the effort to explicitly teach what a person may not know about socializing. Think – programming a social computer with many algorithms; if a person does A, you do B. While this may be great at teaching the basics, it often does not adequately prepare ASD individuals for the unpredictability and fluidity of everyday interactions. Another approach is that of “social performance”, a dynamic method of encouraging social pragmatic development by providing semi-structured socialization opportunities in small group settings with immediate, in vivo feedback on what’s working or not. Think – flexing a social muscle. Drama-based social pragmatic groups are gaining in popularity as a method for not only promoting social connections but as a fun way to create an encouraging and supportive space to finds one’s own intrinsically motivating social style.

But enhancing individual social skills and providing adequate social opportunities is admittedly a one-sided approach. Equally important is challenging the stigma and bias that plague the ASD community. We need to be allies to this community by promoting greater acceptance of a wide-range of social styles and approaches to social engagement. To honor the neurodiversity mission, which “rejects the idea that autism should be cured, advocating instead for celebrating autistic forms of communication and self-expression, and for promoting support systems that allow autistic people to live as autistic people.” (What is Neurodiversity? [Website]. (2011).  National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University)

As a therapist who has worked with ASD individuals across the lifespan since 2004, I know firsthand that autistic people feel the same loneliness and isolation when chronically socially disconnected, and feel the same anxiety and unease when experiencing social rejection. I have also had the pleasure of witnessing individuals find their own distinctive social style and the joy of connecting with others who appreciate what is different as interesting and exceptional, rather than off-putting or strange. The autistic people in my life, both professionally and personally, have challenged me to rethink narrow and strictly defined social expectations, and have made all my relationships richer as a result. Autistic people are often credited with “out of the box” thinking and innovation, which can be applied to their social lives as well, as they are uninhibited by social convention. For example, Asperger’s are Us are the first all-autistic sketch comedy troupe, and their performances reflect their original and offbeat sense of humor, as well as their deep connection to one another as friends. A great example of what is possible.

The New York Times article said it best in its conclusion, “improving the social lives of autistic people will require putting aside assumptions about how social interest is expressed and recognizing that it can be shown in unexpected ways.” As parents, professionals, and allies, let’s commit to challenging this very basic and long-held assumption and appreciate and embrace the unique and creative ways autistic people chose to engage the world around them.

 

About the Author: 

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in addition to a number of other modalities. She provides enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA as well as to provide therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her approach is child-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.

Reach out if you would like to work with Rebecca: Email rgirard@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9825

 

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives

By | NESCA Notes 2018

 

Free to Be 2e!
Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives

By: Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, NESCA

Richard Branson
Businessman and Investor

Whoopie Goldberg
Actress and talk show host

Tim Burton
Director

Daryl Hannah
Actress

What do the above celebrities all have in common, aside from being wildly successful and having household names? They are all considered “2e”!

The term, “Twice Exceptional” or “2e” is gaining popularity in educational and therapeutic settings, but what does it mean? The term refers to children who possess both exceptional gifts and talents, and who also experience various learning difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. A recently published textbook, Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties (2017) explores this movement in detail and offers the latest evidence- and strengths-based approaches in supporting the extraordinary “2e” young people in our lives.

Scott Barry Kaufman writes frequently on this topic. He argues that education and intervention have often employed a silo approach, meaning that these systems have viewed children as either exclusively disabled or exclusively gifted, instead of appreciating the dynamic interaction of both. Kaufman describes this as an “artificial mutual exclusiveness” that is harmful to children whose unique profiles include both remarkable strengths and complex learning deficits. This often leads to difficulty “fitting in” in traditional educational settings as well as to children feeling misunderstood and unappreciated for the things they are good at doing. According to davincilearning.org, a website dedicated to “multiple exceptionality” or the intersection of giftedness, disability, and trauma, there are three ways we misunderstand the needs of twice-exceptional children:

  1. Disability masks giftedness, and the focus on correcting disability leads to giftedness being overlooked.
  2. Giftedness masks the signs of disability.
  3. Both giftedness and disability mask each other, and the person appears to be ordinary.

So what is to be done? If you have a “2e” child in your life, consider the following recommendations set forth by Dr. Kaufman:

  1. Specialized methods of identification that consider the possible interaction of the exceptionalities.
  2. Enriched/advanced educational opportunities that focus on developing the child’s interests and highest strengths while also meeting the child’s learning needs.
  3. Simultaneous supports that ensure the child’s academic success and social-emotional well-being, such as accommodations, therapeutic interventions, and specialized instruction.

As parents, educators, and therapists, we must be sensitive to the intricacies of a child’s abilities and deficits, and take care to not focus too exclusively on such a false dichotomy. Instead, let’s “see beyond lables,” as Dr. Kaufman suggests, and focus on natural strengths, internal motivation, and opportunities for growth.

Many accomplished people with learning differences attribute thinking differently as a factor in their success. May all our “2e” friends find what works best for them and create their own self-defined success.

NESCA is proud to offer evaluation services that help to uncover underlying reasons for struggles as well as unique strengths and aptitudes and to integrate findings into a recognizable portrait of of the whole child, teen, or young adult. If you would like to learn more about Neuropsychological Assessment or Transition Assessment at NESCA provides, click here.

And for more information about twice-exceptionality, see below!

*Disclosure: Rebecca Girard, LICSW contributed to Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties in the chapter, “Appreciating and Promoting Social Creativity in Youth with Asperger’s Syndrome”

About the Author:

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in additional to a number of other modalities. She is excited to provide enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA as well as to provide individual and group therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her professional passion is promoting tolerance and understanding of neurodiverse people of all abilities, and creating an empowering and accepting environment in therapy for clients of all ages. Her approach is client-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.