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Two Indiana State students to offer child social skills group

September 30, 2016

Children who struggle to make and keep friends, understand body language or pick up on social cues may find help from a child social skills group at Indiana State University.

Led by two Indiana State doctoral degree students under the supervision of a licensed psychologist, the group will be geared toward children ages 6-9, especially those with high-functioning autism, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with social skills deficit.

The group will meet from 6 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday from mid-October to Dec. 14 at Indiana State's Psychology Clinic in Root Hall, located at 424 N. Seventh St. Parents can call the clinic at 812-237-3317 to register their child for the free service.

The intervention, which uses theatre skills and activities to teach social interaction skills, was developed by Rachel Magin while she was an undergraduate theatre and psychology double major at Union College in New York.

"I was interested in seeing if theatre games could improve social skills and social anxiety in children with autism," said Magin, '19, who is working on her doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Indiana State. "My thought was that the more anxious the children were socially the more deficits they would have in social skills, and theatre activities were a different and unique way to engage them and help them improve in these areas."

In 2013, Magin tested her theory as part of her psychology thesis when she studied four experimental groups and four controlled groups during seven, once-a-week sessions. The children were divided into two groups, ages 7-9 and 10-14, that participated in improv games requiring them to communicate with each other nonverbally, as well as more structured role play activities.

While Magin's previous experience placed children into groups of four, she and Erin McTiernan, who is also working on doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Indiana State and helping with the social skills group, will expand the group sizes to accommodate interest in the program.

"We found that the parents reported significant improvements in social skills and decreases in their children's level of anxiety," she said. "Here, we want to expand the group to all children with social skills deficits. We will start out slow and do things to encourage participation, but we won't make the kids do any activity they don't want to do. I think the children will be enthusiastic about the activities once they get involved, though, and it's an opportunity for them to work together."

Parents will be kept in the loop about what happens in group and how to reinforce the skills at home during one-on-one meetings with Magin after each session.

"Doing the group last time was a lot of work but also a lot of fun for the kids and me," Magin said. "It's a great, free opportunity for the kids to have a fun experience while meeting other kids."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or betsy.simon@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

The group will be geared toward children ages 6-9, especially those with high-functioning autism, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with social skills deficit. Parents can call the clinic at 812-237-3317 to register their child.

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