Promoting Social Communication: Children With Developmental Disabilities From Birth to Adolescence. Howard Goldstein, Louise A. Kaczmarek, and Kristina M. English. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 2002.
Why should we be concerned with social–communication skills? In the last chapter of this edited text, Greenwood, Walker, and Utley summarize the reasons these skills are important. Social–communication skills are related to school achievement, emotional and behavioral development, and relationships with others. Further, these skills affect what we are taught and how fast we learn. In essence, social–communication skills impact our entire quality of life.
There is no doubt that social–communication skills are critical and should be a high priority for intervention efforts. As this text illustrates, there is empirical support for ways to enhance these skills across the age span. Yet, after reading this book, I was reminded again about the complexity of promoting these skills. In my opinion, social–communication skills are among the most complex to teach and change. These skills are influenced by such variables as the personality, temperament, motivation, age, and cognitive characteristics of individuals with and without disabilities in both dyadic and larger social network relationships. In addition, all of these variables are impacted by the social context in which the social–communication skills take place. It is a daunting task to change these skills because of the number of variables that must be considered. Past research efforts may have yielded positive intervention results, but some of these investigators have either measured a narrow subset of dependent variables or employed simplistic intervention procedures, resulting in outcomes that may not be meaningful. This book not only captures the complexity of social–communication skills, but also offers readers realistic strategies that can be used to impact these skills.
Editors Goldstein, Kaczmarek, and English are uniquely qualified to address this topic because of their past research efforts and backgrounds in language development. They have assembled an impressive array of authors, who discuss the topic of social–communication skills in a scholarly, but highly readable way. The book is organized into two sections. The first section contains three chapters that provide a foundation for understanding how social and linguistic behaviors are interrelated and influenced by context. The second section contains chapters in which authors discuss the empirical support for intervention strategies involving infants and toddlers, preschool children, school-age children, and adolescents. A particularly noteworthy aspect of this section is that a second chapter containing case studies offering examples of social–communicative interventions also accompanies each of the research-based chapters.
In the first chapter, Goldstein and Morgan discuss three perspectives (developmental, social psychological, and sociological) for guiding intervention efforts to enhance social interactions and relationships with others, particularly friendships. This chapter is helpful because the authors explore the possible underpinnings that influence social–communication skills. Although each perspective is different, Goldstein and Morgan discuss common themes associated with each perspective, including the importance of proximity, similarity among peers, common social goals, age, status, group dynamics, and the interaction of social skills and friendship. As noted by these authors, it is important to have an integrated and comprehensive model for viewing social–communicative behavior in order to guide our research and intervention efforts.
Abbeduto and Short-Meyerson's chapter is a unique and wonderful contribution because it covers literature not usually seen in books on social behavior. Specifically, the authors discuss the linguistic influences on social interaction, pointing out that pragmatics is the study of language use in social contexts, and they make an excellent case for reconsidering the utterance as the unit of analysis in pragmatic research. They note that we should look at collaborative behaviors among speakers and the goals that motivate them instead. Context is emphasized and the routine and predictable language scripts used in many contexts are suggested as a way to demystify the seemingly overwhelming array of diverse social contexts in which people interact. This dense chapter was intriguing, but somewhat difficult for me to translate into practice, particularly for students with more significant disabilities.
Kaczmarek does a masterful job of presenting an interdisciplinary assessment model that illustrates strategies for assessing the effectiveness and appropriateness of social communication at three increasingly complex levels of performance (i.e., skill level, task performance level, and overall performance level). That Kaczmarek could review and synthesize 15 pages of references into a readable and logical model of assessment is noteworthy.
As previously mentioned, the chapters in the second section contain empirical reviews of the literature and accompanying case studies. Warren, Yoder, and Leew address infants and toddlers; Brown and Conroy cover preschool; Kamps, Kravits, and Ross detail strategies for children of school age; and Kennedy and Cushing discuss practices for adolescents with more significant disabilities. All of these chapters are scholarly and informative. Interestingly, they are also more similar than different. In each chapter the authors talk about the importance of strategies that change context, significant others (e.g., peers and parents), and the social–communication behaviors of individuals with disabilities. In addition, the intervention strategies suggested, particularly in the case study chapters, rely on a multi-faceted approach to intervention rather than promoting a single strategy. Although a multi-faceted approach is suggested, the involvement of peers, particularly in the school-related chapters, is emphasized. Peer-mediated approaches make sense because peers can form the basis for a support system, which may lead to the development of close social relationships, such as friendships. Although many questions remain about the most effective intervention strategies to use, it is clear that a broad and comprehensive approach to intervention is needed in order to promote the complexity of social–communication behaviors.
Can teachers, parents, and other support personnel translate these research findings into practice? This is just one of the research questions mentioned by Greenwood, Walker, and Utley in the last chapter of the book. Are these practices accessible to and usable for the public? Will the public want to channel resources toward teaching these skills when other skills, such as academics, may appear more important, particularly as students get older? Although Greenwood and his colleagues detail a number of important areas for research, the question of sustainability seems particularly pertinent, especially if we believe that social–communication skills impact our education, friendships, jobs, and quality of life.
This book provides an excellent summary of research findings regarding theoretical approaches, assessment practices, and intervention strategies for promoting social–communication skills among children and youth with disabilities. The authors have written a book that is scholarly, but also accessible. It is a book that would be appealing to professionals from a variety of disciplines, including education, communication disorders, social work, and psychology. This book is an excellent resource for researchers and practitioners, and I recommend it to both.