Book Review: The Social Skills Picture Book

This book, The Social Skills Picture Book by Dr. Jed Baker, came highly recommended. Our library didn’t have a copy in the local system, and since I figured we would be using it a lot I bought it sight unseen. It was a $26 dollar lesson.

First of all, this book was written in 2001 with most sources dated in the 90’s. So much new understanding and respect of autistic persons has happened in the 16 years since this book was written. So while I suppose I can not fault the author of the book with a lack of understanding, this book should not be used any longer due to it’s outdated attitudes towards autistics and extreme normalization attempts. At least, I believe them to be outdated and disrespectful. Sadly there are probably people who would still agree with those attitudes.

Second of all, there is a section in the beginning about discrete trials. If you are fundamentally opposed to ABA and the operant conditioning that accompanies ABA, you are probably not going to like this book. Again, 2001 was a different time for autism awareness and acceptance than it is now. Now it is more widely understood and accepted that forced eye contact is harmful and disrespectful to the autistic individual. (I wrote a bit about autistic eye contact here.)

Thirdly, this book is intended to make autistic children behave in a classroom setting. This book is not about building relationships with other children, but behaving so the teacher doesn’t have to spend extra attention and time on you. Okay, that may have come out a bit snarky, but it is true to the essence of this book. It would have been really nice to know that before I spent money on it.

Here are just a few examples of problems I saw in the book.

  • A lot of forced eye contact
  • Autistic child is taught that they are to make their body look like they’re listening to another child, even if they aren’t interested. But in a following chapter another, presumably neurotypical, child is shown doing all the things the autistic child is told not to do, and the autistic child when they see someone else doing that is supposed to stop talking about what they were talking about. Am I the only one who sees a problem with this?
  • To get attention of anyone, autistic child is supposed to wait for a pause. Here’s the thing: sometimes there aren’t natural pauses. Sometimes, as an autistic facebook friend pointed out, the autistic child doesn’t process the pause has happened until it’s already passed by. Sometimes people are jerks and ignore the person trying to politely standing on the side waiting. What about then? The kids are told not to grab, but we have a family rule that if you want to ask or say something when adults are speaking to rest their hand on the adult’s arm as a signal. So that could get confusing.
  •  The instructions to have a conversation are to just keep asking follow up questions. Literal, 6 pages in a row of “ask another follow up question.” No where is “if you know something about the topic, share it!” No where is the message that conversation should be about anything but the other kid and their interests. Not only is this sucky, but telling a kid to just keep asking questions is a good way to set them up as an annoying kid that the other kids avoid because all he does is ask questions. If the author is just assuming that a neurotypical kid will take a turn asking questions of the autistic kid, that’s assuming a lot. Ableism, and ignoring the fact that a lot of kids (the age pictured in all the pictures) are just plain self centered.
  • Forced sharing. This may be something new since 2001, but I’m not on board with sharing to make people like you. If they only like you because you give them something, you don’t want them as friends.
  • “When you wait, others will feel happy and want to give you a turn.” False. Again, assuming NT kids are perfect and great. Just this weekend Builder Boy melted down over other children not staying in line and following the order at a birthday party (there were other factors, too); and Early Bird was getting pretty upset, too.
  • “Ask if he is teasing you.” Seriously?! The author assumes bullies aren’t going to lie and that they can be relied on to not say no as further teasing?! Ask yourself, is this advice you would give an NT child? And if not, why the hell is it okay to tell a more socially vulnerable autistic?

Okay, I need to stop there because I’m getting pissed off again. I did find the last 1/3 of the book marginally helpful.

When I first got the book, I read it and complained on facebook while I read the first half. I asked the question: at what point is a book no longer worth it? What percentage is worth amending/correcting before it was no longer worth it? A good answer I got is “when it would be less work to make your own than to correct the book.” The only problem with that is, I wasn’t even sure what to address or how to explain stuff until I saw the stuff in the book, both the okay and the anger-inducing. So, I guess I did need to buy this book. I’d love to make a replacement; some day in all of my “free time,” right?

In conclusion, I do not recommend this book unless you are willing to overlook ableism and are willing to take the time, sticky notes, and Sharipes to fix it.

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