As I begin another school year, I like to think about what has been successful in the past and how I can improve on what has already been working. This year, I am thinking specifically about the Lunch Bunch Social Skills group that I implemented a few years ago, first at the high school and then at the preschool where I work. I began the high school group in an effort to improve the pragmatic skills necessary for my students in the self-contained classroom to engage better at mealtimes with family and friends, as well as to work on skills necessary for social communication. Skills such as refining personal habits and manners, topic initiation, turn-taking, asking and answering “wh” questions, asking follow-up questions, and overall optimism and friendliness, were some of the areas I targeted.
Following some success with the self-contained students, I began to target similar skills with my students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Lunch Bunch model was successful with them, as well. They were delighted (mostly!) to have a group to engage with at mealtimes, and we focused on current events and school happenings as a framework for social skills practice. Sometimes we would script a conversation or a specific situation, but we would try to move quickly to spontaneous communication and self-assessment. I would use visuals, so as not to interrupt the flow of the conversation, and a subtle tap of the “make eye contact” picture would usually be sufficient for self-correction.
Last year, I realized that my preschool students could also benefit from the Lunch Bunch. The preschool students were honored to be chosen to be a part of this special time! I would choose one talkative role model to incorporate into our group of four, and we would discuss favorite lunch foods and other pertinent topics. We would also incorporate problem solving, such as what do you do if you spill your milk? All the students , from the youngest to the oldest, loved the opportunities to share and learn, and Lunch Bunch became a wonderful time to reinforce and teach new skills.
Author: Tracy Owens, SLP