COMFORT IN SOCIAL CIRCLES

One of the skills the Navigator learned early on was how there were different levels of relationships with various different people.

It was a skill that a neuro-typical child would develop through observation and mimicry; for the Navigator the skill had to be taught.

It was a skill full of grey areas and abstractions and it was sometimes a challenge. He was fortunate that his school used the Circles Program to help him learn about different levels of relationships.

The Circles Program is an intensive curriculum with multiple modules for use by many teachers at schools – it was not really designed for one-on-one use with parents or for students to learn on their own.

This is why the Circles Social Skills app was developed. Currently available on i-devices, it will be coming available on android-based devices in 2018.

I recently had a chance to learn more about the app from its developers at the James Stanfield Company:

AM: What is the goal of the app?

Circles Social Skills Utility™ is based on our best-selling Circles® Curriculum, developed to provide children on the autism spectrum, children with intellectual/developmental disabilities, and children with affective disorders, with the tools to organize relationships and determine what levels of touch, talk, and trust are appropriate to prevent abuse and exploitation.

Organizing social connections based on a person’s objective “closeness” is something that comes naturally to most. The social skills that you use every day usually don’t require a second thought—we move through the day interacting with people appropriately, knowing whose hands to shake, which subjects are OK to talk about with acquaintances, who to trust with our personal information, and more.

We categorize individuals and, based on previous interactions/connections, we decide how to act towards them: these decisions include how to talk to someone and what we talk about, how much we can trust them, and how much touch and what types of touch are appropriate with them.

Children on the autism spectrum, children with intellectual/developmental disabilities, and children with affective disorders have greater difficulties understanding these appropriate social boundaries, and how to categorize relationships. This difficulty inhibits children from creating healthy social relationships.

Without a comprehensive knowledge of social boundaries and relationship “rules,” children on the intellectual and developmental disabilities are hindered from having fulfilling social interactions. Unfortunately, lacking an understanding of appropriate social boundaries also makes these students more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and exploitation.

The Circles Social Skill Utility™ App was developed to address this issue of social boundaries by making abstract concepts concrete and thus easier for students to understand and follow.

AM: Why was the app developed?

The James Stanfield Company created the concept of Circles years ago with a VideoModeling® based curriculum first available on slides, then VHS and now DVD. Teachers have been using Circles® through this application for over a decade. Since it is one of our most popular programs, we decided the next best way to reach students today is through the use of iPads and Chromebooks.

As most parents and teachers know, iPads and Chromebooks have taken the education world by storm. More and more educators are using iPads and Chromebooks as tools and instructional devices in the classroom so we thought– why not create an app specifically for the special education community? The mission of the Circles Social Skills Utility™ is to educate students on the rules of relationships and levels of intimacy for abuse protection in an accessible way that is easy to learn and apply.

AM: How has the ASD community responded to the app?

Users love the Circles Social Skills Utility™! Check out https://www.circlesapp.com/blog/ to see why Bridging Apps gave the Circles Social Skills Utility™ a 5 Star Rating and why Touch Autism found the app to be “fantastic and definitely worth checking out”.

Teachers from across the country have also their appreciation for the app and how it has helped their students. One example comes from a teacher who shared:

“I strongly believe that participating in this program helped a student of mine report that she was being sexually abused by a member of her family. I have taught over 20 years and this is one of the best programs for my students.” — Jerri Chronister, Teacher

It is through stories like these that we recognize the impact of the program and how it can be of benefit to any classrooms. It’s crucial that we teach children strategies that in return help not only themselves but also others in the community.

AM: What is your target age range for the app?

Depending on the severity of their disability, we anticipate any age above 8 years old. Circles Social Skills Utility™ can also be used with a trusted teacher, parent or guardian if the app is seemingly difficult for the student or to add more instruction to the game.

It has been used with children as young as 3 years old WITH the guidance and teaching of a parent or educator. This means the adult would be asking and reiterating questions and place icons in the appropriate circles. It is also used with general education students.

AM: Can adults on the spectrum use the app as well?

Absolutely! While it may be targeted more to the appeal of older children and adolescents, we believe adults can also benefit from using the app. The app’s format and dialogue enable it to be relevant to wide range of users.

The content of the Circles Social Skills Utility™ applies to most anyone since children and adults, although at different stages of their lives, have many similar types of relationships. We all have similar interactions with family, community members, friends, etc.

AM: What were the greatest challenges in developing the app?

I think when it comes to developing an app, the logistics are always the hardest. We knew we had this amazing concept that worked so well in our Circles® curriculum with VideoModeling® — we just needed to find a way for it to be effective in an app structure. As you know, we’ve developed an app for iPad, but we are also about to release the app on chromebook.

AM: What are you most proud of since the app was released?

One of the greatest successes was the initial feedback. We had lots of responses from teachers and parents who said their kids took to the app quickly. Another success was in the development of our blog and our website.

We wanted to create a source that could provide not only information on the app, but also a blog (that is still being developed) where people who are interested in abuse protection and the ASD community could find solidarity in blog topics that can be applicable and helpful beyond the curriculum of the app.

AM: What’s next for the app?

In the future we’ll be adding features on what levels of “Talk” and “Trust” are appropriate for each unique relationship your students encounter in their day-to-day lives. In addition, we plan to address the rules for the online community, as students spend several hours of their day connected to millions of people online.

I received compensation for this interview. Proceeds generated from this site go to local Autism and special education needs, Autcraft, a Minecraft server for children on the Autism spectrum and their families (Autcraft.com), and to Project Hero, a non-profit organization that supports wounded veterans to promote a full and fast rehabilitation (ProjectHero.org).