When therapists are asked how they’re addressing self-regulation and executive functions in their intervention, the answer is often that they’re using the Social Thinking® (ST) Program, in particular Zones of Regulation®.

Although these are good resources, there are many crucial differences between the ST programs and spark*. Most importantly, spark* focuses on building children’s foundation skills – body, cognitive and emotional self-regulation.

Many teachers and therapists want to leap in to deal immediately with the most obvious social and emotional issues in their students. That’s understandable but the children don’t have the body and cognitive self-regulation skills to be fully successful. The children need to have control of their bodies, learn to self-calm, take in information systematically, decide what’s most important, construct and express meaning, etc. before heading into complex social problem-solving. For example, if the child doesn’t know what’s most important to look at or how to put pieces of information together, s/he is less likely to benefit from instruction in social or emotional self-regulation. ST has some great handouts or materials but they assume that children have already mastered body and cognitive self-regulation as well as strong language and thinking skills.

Work on body self-regulation first, then cognitive self-regulation and finally emotional self-regulation before social skills training.

It’s little wonder that outcomes of social skills training programs have been less than we’d hope. Children who’ve had social skills training typically use them only sporadically in everyday life++ It’s like there’s a disconnect between the social rules and behaviors and their application in daily life.

++ Bellini, S., Peters, J. K., Benner, L., & Hopf, a. (2007). A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Social Skills Interventions for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Remedial and Special Education, 28(3), 153–162. https://doi.org/10.1177/07419325070280030401

++ Rao, P. A., Beidel, D. C., & Murray, M. J. (2008). Social skills interventions for children with Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism: A review and recommendations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(2), 353–361. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-007-0402-4

++ White, S. W., Koenig, K., & Scahill, L. (2010). Group Social Skills Instruction for Adolescents With High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 25(4), 209–219. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088357610380595