Meet One Of Our Speech Pathologists – Sarah Draper

Meet Sarah Draper, a Speech Pathologist at our clinic who has a passion for helping her clients improve their social competency skills.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I started work at Box Hill Speech Pathology in 2017, and also work in a primary school. I help all sorts of people to achieve better communication, and am particularly interested in social competencies and how they help children on the autism spectrum.

Why are social competencies important? 

Most people associate this skillset with conversations and relationship-building; however, you need good social competency skills for academic tasks like literacy comprehension.

Understanding text is a lot about perspective-taking, requiring social thinking. People with autism (or Aspergers), often really struggle to interpret narrative in particular, because they have difficulty understanding the motivating factors behind action and speech. This is why they usually prefer non-fiction text or struggle with literacy in general. It can also be tough for them to interpret film, just as it is difficult for them to navigate social interactions.

In adult life, socially competence is importance for participating successfully in the workplace. Holding down a job, getting a promotion, or even completing vocational education can be very hard if you lack social thinking skills.

What is social thinking?

It’s problem-solving in social situations. Rather than just having social rules concerning etiquette, like saying please and thank you, or not yelling in a classroom, social thinking is about assessing context to understand which social norms apply. Once someone can identify the context they can decide what tone to use, whether
humour is appropriate and generally navigate social interactions with greater ease.

How does social thinking relate to speech?

To have effective communication, you need to speak clearly and accurately, be understood, understand what the other person is saying but also be aware of contextual clues. These include body language and tone, and can help identify social goals.

If we can understand someone’s social goal (i.e. their goal might be to make friends), we can hypothesise what they might be thinking, understand their motivation and better interpret their cues.

Conversations are fast, and we make many assessments and decisions in milliseconds. If someone has poor processing speed, it’s even more difficult. Improving social thinking skills can make this process easier.

How do you learn social thinking in a speech therapy session?

Often, we watch short videos and talk about the characters. We might discuss what the character was thinking or
ask how they might have been feeling. We look into what was said, and what might be said in response. We try to equip a client with the tools needed to interpret social interactions and help them apply this knowledge to literacy.

Who would best benefit from this type of speech therapy?

It’s never too late to improve your social skills. For younger children (aged 4-7), we introduce the core concepts
through specialised storybooks. Once children can apply these concepts in a range of situations, we move on to other concepts involving deciphering hidden rules, using flexible thinking and making a ‘smart guess’.

For older children (7-14 years), the concepts remain the same but are discussed in the context of short films or using examples from the client’s own life. The founder of this research, Michelle Garcia Winner, also works with adults who might have difficulty in the workplace, for example.

The approach is best suited to people who have average to high language skills or average to high IQ levels, but poor social cognitive skills. It’s particularly useful for people diagnosed with Aspergers or high-functioning autism.

A psychologist can also help with social competencies, however, they focus on how the client perceives them-self or feels. A speech pathologist looks at how that person is feeling about others, and how they are communicating with another person.

Do other therapists at Box Hill use this style of therapy?

Definitely. Multiple therapists including Vicky Andrews, and Genevieve Tierney integrate this technique into their work when appropriate.

To make an appointment, phone 03 9899 5494 today.

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