Social Coaching: Testing for Dissemination
Last year, I participated in a program aimed at improving social abilities in young adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. The Social Pragmatics Group program was developed and led by Dr. Jennifer Nachshen, and is largely based on social skills training. Social functioning is indeed one of the strongest predictors of good prognosis in terms of life satisfaction for people suffering from an ASD.
As a social coach, I was provided with a concise training focusing on interactions with the autistic population, their main deficits and challenges, and how I should approach my position. I was paired with a young person who had been diagnosed with autism since early infancy, and who wished to improve their social skills. My role was to assist them during our weekly classes, provide guidance in the group activities we would do, and take my partner on an outing every week in order to practice our social skills. More importantly, I had to provide feedback and advice for them to improve.
While this program is well built, useful, and based on solid and reliable research, selection of the social coaches was an issue. A short and informal interview was performed, and references were required, but little to no assessment of our social abilities was done. Indeed, it is my opinion that a test measuring our potential ability as a social coach would have been beneficial.
Through the weekly group sessions, I could observe that some social coaches were rarely interacting with their partners, seemed reluctant to participate in group discussions, and had trouble providing the help that was expected of them. I found myself in situations where I did not know what to do, or was too shy to provide feedback that would’ve benefited my partner. For instance, the section of the course on dating, relationships, and sexuality left many members, both coaches and participants, uncomfortable and shy. My partner would tell me about some challenges he has experienced in dating situations, and I had trouble providing advice given the complexity of the situation.
I believe the above problems were an issue through the interview process. Indeed, interviews and resumes are weak indicators of one’s performance on a given job. A reliable test that would assess social skills, assertiveness, leadership, and ability to provide advice and feedback would have been much needed for such a task. This illustrates the flipside of testing and dissemination that seems to be too often overlooked; psychologists and researchers work to build and test such programs to be reliable and efficient, but in this case no test was present to ensure its proper application. Such a phenomenon is also relevant to other professional and academic settings, as skills that are relevant to the position one is applying for are rarely properly assessed during an interview.