Pilot program launched for socially-challenged students

This semester SAIT is starting to reach out to students in need of help interacting with their instructors, fellow students, and future employers.

Around a dozen students struggling with autism, social anxiety and other factors that inhibit their social skills and abilities are meeting with psychologist Barbara Patterson.

It’s part of SAIT’s accessibility services’ new social skills group.

The 12-week pilot project started in the fall semester and will run into the 2017 winter semester.

“I will be focusing in on the classroom, but all the skills I will teach here will apply outwards, to other parts of people’s lives,” Patterson said in an interview.

The program will address the issues people with disabilities have, that affect their ability to interact with people around them,

The program is centered on academic success but ultimately looks to help and better prepare students for their time after SAIT.

One of the advantages of SAIT compared to other post-secondary institutions is it’s smaller, more personal scale, and class sizes.

This factor encourages students to interact with their peers in hands-on scenarios during class, and the instructors interact with students on a first-name basis.

“At a university, you can sit in a classroom with 250 people and never have to interact with your classmates or instructor, while at SAIT you work with your classmates very closely, and that seemed to be where some students were not doing as well as they could,” said Shan Robertson, the Accessibility Services manager and the co-ordinator for the pilot social skills project.

Accessibility Services works to provide support for students with disabilities and has a broad range of offerings for support such as academic coaches, tutors, consultations, referrals, and funding support.

But, as Robertson said, “What [services] we seem to be missing for some students are for social skill.”

The pilot aims to fill this gap.

At the conclusion of this project, Accessibility Services will take a look at the feedback from the students and their families and follow up with them to decide if the program will continue as a regular support program.

I will be focusing in on the classroom, but all the skills I will teach here will apply outwards, to other parts of people’s lives. -Barbara Patterson

The candidates taking part in the projects were selected from students working with accessibility services, based on recommendations from academic coaches and accessibility consultants.

The candidates have been split into two groups that will meet weekly with Patterson for the duration of the program.

“We’ll keep it very small because all of these people have difficulty with social interactions,” said Patterson.

Patterson created the pilot’s content and structure specifically for SAIT.

The program is brand new and Patterson said she anticipates that it will evolve as this pilot progresses.

“If there is feedback I want the students to come to me and say if they need something or if something isn’t useful.”

About Lucas Lyons 3 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Lucas Lyons worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2017-18 academic year.

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