Are you a “people watcher”? Did you ever ask yourself, “why do we watch people?” We believe we watch people to learn what to do or say in a certain situation, to learn what is socially “ok” “to do and not to do, and as a way of storing memories of certain social behaviors. We also watch people because it is just fun! However, those who struggle with various social learning disabilities need specific teaching in:
- why do we observe others, and
- what do we do with that information our eyes, brain, ears and other senses take in as a result of us observing.
So the next question to ask is, “so who do we observe?” Well the obvious answer is, “we observe anyone we are sharing space with”. True, but before we become socially savvy enough to know to do that (and how to do that without looking like we are stalking people!), we need to get a little more specific in the “who”.
Direct Teaching, Observation, and Modeling
Based on our clinical work, we have come to understand that individuals with social learning challenges learn best by a combination of direct teaching of social concepts and by having the opportunity to observe and model those social behaviors of same aged peers. But don’t take our word for it. Let’s go back to the research for a moment. There is empirical evidence to suggest the effectiveness of using peer models as a way of conducting effective social teaching programs (Chan, et.al.,2009) for the purposes of improving social outcomes for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other social learning challenges and improve specific social “skills” such as initiations, joint attention and non verbal communicative attempts (Murdock et. al., 2007; Humphrey & Lewis, 2008).