Methods for Teaching Social Skills to Children – Temple Grandin

How to Use 1950’s Methods for Teaching
Social Skills to Children that Worked for Me.

By Temple Grandin

When I was in elementary school during the 1950’s all children were taught basic social skills the same way. When I visited a friend’s house and I made a table manners mistake, I was corrected by my friend’s mother. The methods and rules were the same at home, at the neighbors, and at school. All corrections were calm. There was no screaming or yelling.

1. Use Teachable Moments – When a mistake in social manners is made, never scream “NO, stop it, quit it or cut it out.” Instead give the instruction on a calm voice. Some examples are:

  • Eating mashed potatoes with my hands – RESPONSE – Use your fork.
  • Wiping my mouth with my hand – RESPONSE – Use your napkin.
  • I forgot to s ay please or thank you – RESPONSE – You forgot to say .
  • Stuck my tongue out at a person – RESPONSE – Put tongue back in your mouth – that is rude behavior.

2. Most important skills taught under age 8.

  • Learning how to take turns. This was taught with a board game. When I got a little older, the whole family played cards. Lessons learned from turn taking in board games can be applied to taking turns doing activities as a family. When the family went to a movie, I had to take turns with my sister picking the movie. Another example would be choosing a restaurant or a store to visit.
  • Saying please and thank you.
  • Shaking hands and greeting people. It was demonstrated like teaching a person in a foreign country how to behave. Mother and teachers demonstrated the correct distance, looking in the eye and the amount of hand pressure. I practiced my skills by being party hostess when my mother invited guests for dinner.
  • Shopping and learning the value of money. I got 50 cents a week to buy things I wanted such as comics, balsa wood toy airplanes, kites, and ice cream bars. These were items that if I wanted them I had to buy them myself. I also had to do all the interactions with the store staff. Mom stayed away when I made my purchases. My favorite toy airplane cost 69 cents so I had to have two weeks of allowance to buy it. Comics were 10 cents and a kite and string was 20 cents. Today these prices would be higher but I learned the value of money from my purchases. I also learned that I had to wait and save to get the 69 cent airplane.
  • My ability in art was always encouraged. My teachers and mother encouraged me to draw many different things.

3. Excessive praise is bad – When I was very young, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methods were used to teach me to talk and lots of praise was used. This was required to get my speech started. By age four I had learned to talk and ABA methods were phased out. After I learned to talk, constant praise was stopped. Praise was reserved for something really special such as a really fabulous art project or singing at a concert. The following activities and behaviors were not praised. In the 1950’s, children were expected to do the following. This may not work for a nonverbal child.

  • Be on time for meals, religious workshop or school bus pickup.
  • Making my bed.
  • Dressing myself. Before I went to bed, I was taught to lay out the clothes I was going to wear the next day. I started to do this at age five.
  • Getting up on time.
  • Being polite.

Saying please when making a request and thanking another person for doing something I requested was always emphasized. In many situations, saying thank you was a form of praise. At the dining room table, my sister would ask me to pass the serving dish of green beans. When I passed it, she said thank you. To effectively teach children the parents also have to practice good manners and say please and thank you.

4. Temper Tantrums – When I had a temper tantrum at home or at school the penalty was no TV for one night. Mother and my elementary school teachers worked as a team. If I had a temper tantrum at home, she put me in my room and let me scream it out. Thirty minutes later when I was calm, she invited me back to join the family, but there was no TV tonight. Mother always handled it calmly.

4. Oppositional Behavior – Provide choices to help prevent oppositional behavior where a child always says No. Below are some examples:

  • You can do your homework either after school or after dinner
  • You can wear your blue shirt or your white one. I was allowed to pick out the clothes I wanted to wear from the clothes that were in the drawer.
  • Video game playing needs to be limited to one hour a day and two hours a day on weekends. Give the child a choice of activities they can do when they are not playing video games. They could choose between playing outside with kites and airplanes or adding to their rock collections. Both my sister and I had extensive rock collections that we kept in the garage. I spent hours doing airplane and kite design experiments. We also did creative craft projects such as making abstract art by gluing painted pieces of pasta to cardboard. Another time, my sister and I decorated our trikes with gold paint.

Her inspiring movie:

Temple Grandin – HBO Award Winning – DVD

Author(s): Temple Grandin

It doesn’t take long to see that Temple Grandin, the main character in this eponymous HBO movie, is, well, different–she (in the person of Claire Danes, who plays her) tells us before the credits start that she’s "not like other people." But "different" is not "less." Indeed, Grandin, who is now in her 60s, has accomplished a good deal more than a great many "normal" folks, let alone others afflicted with the autism that Grandin overcame on her way to earning a doctorate and becoming a bestselling author and a pioneer in the humane treatment of livestock. It wasn’t easy. The doctor who diagnosed her at age 4 said she’d never talk and would have to be institutionalized. Only through the dogged efforts of her mother (Julia Ormond), who was told that "lack of bonding" with her child might have caused the autism, did Grandin learn to speak; to go to high school, college, and grad school; and to become a highly productive scientist, enduring the cruel taunts of her classmates and the resistance of many of the adults in her life (most of whom are shown as either narrow-minded prigs or macho, chauvinist jerks). Her lack of social skills and sometimes violent reactions to the overstimulation in her environment made it tough to fit in, to say the least. Danes, who is in nearly every scene of director Mick Jackson’s film, is remarkable, embodying Grandin’s various idiosyncrasies (such as talking, too loud, too fast, and too much) without resorting to caricature. Jackson does a marvelous job of depicting not only her actual accomplishments (among other things, she took the "squeeze machine" created to "gentle" upset cattle and adapted it for herself, using it to replace the hugs she never got as a child; later on, she revolutionized the systems used to prepare cows for slaughter, as well as the design of the slaughterhouses themselves), but also her more abstract talents, especially the extraordinary visual acuity that enables her to remember virtually everything she’s ever seen. This is mostly Danes’s film, but the whole cast is top-notch, especially Ormond, Catherine O’Hara as Temple’s aunt, and David Strathairn as one of the few teachers who saw Grandin’s potential. Captivating, compelling, and thoroughly entertaining, Temple Grandin is highly recommended. –Sam Graham

Running Time: 103 minutes

More about Temple Grandin:

About Temple Grandin

Dr. Grandin didn’t talk until she was three and a half years old, communicating her frustration instead by screaming, peeping, and humming. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism and her parents were told she should be institutionalized. She tells her story of "groping her way from the far side of darkness" in her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic, a book which stunned the world because, until its publication, most professionals and parents assumed that an autism diagnosis was virtually a death sentence to achievement or productivity in life.

Dr. Grandin has become a prominent author and speaker on the subject of autism because "I have read enough to know that there are still many parents, and yes, professionals too, who believe that ‘once autistic, always autistic.’ This dictum has meant sad and sorry lives for many children diagnosed, as I was in early life, as autistic. To these people, it is incomprehensible that the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled. However, I feel strongly that I am living proof that they can" (from Emergence: Labeled Autistic).

Even though she was considered "weird" in her young school years, she eventually found a mentor, who recognized her interests and abilities. Dr. Grandin later developed her talents into a successful career as a livestock-handling equipment designer, one of very few in the world. She has now designed the facilities in which half the cattle are handled in the United States, consulting for firms such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Swift, and others.

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is now the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world. Her fascinating life, with all its challenges and successes has been brought to the screen. She has been featured on NPR (National Public Radio), major television programs, such as the BBC special "The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow", ABC’s Primetime Live, The Today Show, Larry King Live, 48 Hours and 20/20, and has been written about in many national publications, such as Time magazine, People magazine, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and New York Times.. Among numerous other recognitions by media, Bravo Cable did a half-hour show on her life, and she was featured in the best-selling book, Anthropologist from Mars.

Dr. Grandin presently works as a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She also speaks around the world on both autism and cattle handling. At every Future Horizons conference on autism, the audience rates her presentation as 10+.

Dr. Grandin’s current bestselling book on autism is The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s. She also authored Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, Animals Make us Human, Animals in Translation, Thinking in Pictures, Emergence: Labeled Autistic and produced several DVDs. All books and DVD’s available through Future Horizons.

Temple Grandin’s work continues to inspire millions, drawing superlative reviews such as these:

"Temple is my hero. She has my vote for the person who has provided the greatest advance in our understanding of autism this century."

-Dr. Tony Attwood, world renowned expert on autism spectrum disorders.