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Social skills in students with an ABI fact sheet

Social skills in students with an acquired brain injury

How do I know if my student is having difficulties with their social skills?

Social interaction skills can be impacted upon significantly after a brain injury. Even after several years, when physical functioning has returned to near normal levels, the ability to participate in ‘normal’ social activities can be one of the greatest challenges for a student with a brain injury. It is often said that students with a brain injury are able to ‘talk more than they are able to communicate’ due to an underlying cognitive-communication deficit. While able to demonstrate good verbal and intellectual knowledge of social situations, some students with a brain injury may be unable to apply this knowledge in the actual situation due to difficulties with:

  • paying attention to all necessary information (such as keeping on topic and ‘reading’ nonverbal-cues)
  • seeing things from someone else’s point of view
  • thinking about the long-term consequences of actions, rather than basing decisions on immediate needs
  • understanding abstract language such as sarcasm and humour
  • adjusting use of language to suit the audience (eg; friends/teachers/parents).

What can I do to help my student overcome difficulties with their social skills?

  • Be clear and specific about the behaviour that is inappropriate, why it is inappropriate, how it makes others feel or the message that it gives. For example, “You are not looking at me when you are speaking. If you don’t look at me I am not sure if you are talking to me or to someone else. It makes me feel like you don’t really mean what you are saying.”
  • Give examples of more appropriate behaviour for the particular situation being discussed. For example, “You need to look at people when you are speaking to them.”
  • Praise appropriate behaviour. For example, “That was great looking at me when you were talking.”
  • Try to use the same feedback each time so that the student hears the same message and can begin to monitor their own behaviour. Discuss feedback to be given with parents and other staff to ensure consistency.
  • Reassure the student that they have the ability to succeed.
  • Be realistic about the student’s abilities and the expectations placed on them.
  • Rehearse and ‘role-play’ the student’s possible responses ahead of time.
  • Discuss others’ points of view and interpretations of social situations.
  • Avoid the need for the student to make decisions under stressful conditions or time pressure.
  • Encourage the student to look for clues to help them with understanding abstract language, humour and sarcasm. For example, does the person’s facial expression match what they are saying? Does what the person is saying make sense in that situation? Is there a particular word that has a double meaning?

Contact us

Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service
Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital
Level 6, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 2950
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
f: 07 3068 3909
e: qprs@health.qld.gov.au

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Developed by the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service, Children’s Health Queensland. Updated: October 2017. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

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