Yachad Workshop on Social Skills Training for Children with Special Needs

12 Dec 2008


Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, is an agency of the Orthodox Union that provides educational and social inclusion programs through its two major components, Yachad, for children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities, and Our Way for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Yachad offered this vital workshop for parents and professionals because of the vital importance of social skills in our society, declared Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, National Director of Yachad/NJCD. He stated, “While academics are important, if there’s one key to Inclusion, one key to quality of life for an individual with special needs, that key is social skills. The rest is commentary.”

The event featured two experts in the field of special education: Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D., and Julie Wolf, Ph.D.

Dr. Weiss is an Associate Research Professor at Rutgers University, where she also serves as the director of research and training at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center. She has published many books on Autism Spectrum Disorders, including “Reaching Out, Joining In: Teaching Social Skills to Young Children with Autism.” Dr. Wolf works at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, and is involved in a number of federally and privately funded research projects on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Both Dr. Weiss and Dr. Wolf discussed the most progressive techniques in behavior and social skills training for children with special needs. Their open approach and interactive methods with the audience allowed for a forum of discussion and exchange among audience members. After their presentations, they participated in a panel discussion at which they answered questions from audience members.

Yachad is consistently in the forefront of inclusion and special education methodology, nowhere more so than in training for children who have disabilities. It has designed a Relationship Building Course (RBC) which uses a cognitive, behavioral, social integration approach emphasizing the teaching of social skills through discussion, modeling, role-play, and problem-solving. Originally created for young adults with special needs, it has expanded to serve different age groups, specifically children, and is offered in many areas throughout the United States through different Yachad chapters.

Dr. Lichtman stated, “The need to focus attention on social skills training to help achieve Inclusion in the Jewish community is imperative. Our RBC groups have been one element in this effort, which we recently broadened to include younger children with a wider array of challenges. We now have an after school children’s group meeting at Manhattan Day School, and another children’s group at Yeshivat Noam in Teaneck. These schools have taken the lead in partnering with Yachad because they understand the vital role that social skills play in a child’s life. In February, we have a group starting for young adults who have learning disabilities. We will continue to develop and bring these training programs to the Jewish community throughout the United States and Canada.”

Dr. Michelle Orgel, Family and Clinical Services Coordinator of Yachad, who coordinated the program, declared, “What stuck out in my mind about the event was that each presenter brought a different and cutting-edge approach towards implementing social skills for individuals with special needs. I think it really created an important paradigm for the audience to use in daily life.” Dr. Orgel, who moderated the event with Dr. Lichtman, has a Ph.D in developmental psychology from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University.

Dr. Orgel continued, “Very few Jewish agencies or schools are providing programs that tackle the challenge of building social skills in children with special needs. Yachad is one of the few, if the not the only, Jewish agency that offers social skills training courses for children and adults, and is providing informative workshops that help parents and professionals work on developing the social skills of their children with disabilities.”

For more information about Yachad and social skills training groups, contact Dr. Orgel at 212-613-8172 or orgelm@ou.org.