The Behavioral Analysis Program in the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division is responsible for the “thoughtful process of creating a positive interaction and possible relationship between two individuals, whether the goal is an interview, confession, or development of a confidential source.” You may be asking, “Why am I reading about this in a special education blog?” Because Robin Dreeke, who managed the FBI program for more than 25 years, has published a book entitled, “It’s Not All About ‘Me’: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone.” In a nutshell, Mr. Dreeke is talking about the development of social skills, which is a critical piece of the special education puzzle for many of our students. As we have discussed in previous blogs, social skills, or the lack thereof, is what trips up many of our students/children as they enter young adulthood. Rick Lavoie, a social skills training expert, stated: “Social skills deficits are the ultimate determining factor in the child’s future success, happiness, and acceptance.” It’s not enough to be book smart in this world; you also need to have emotional intelligence and people savvy.
Most of Mr. Dreeke’s suggestions, which are crystallized in a Time magazine article, may seem obvious to most of us. Yet, they may not be to our loved ones with disabilities. Admittedly, most of Mr. Dreeke’s strategies are well beyond the scope of most of the client’s in my practice who are still dealing with communication basics: vocal intonation, making eye contact, respecting personal space, etc. But for students who are much higher functioning and capable of abstract thought and introspection, Mr. Dreeke is providing a blue print a la Dale Carnegie on how to make friends and generally succeed in life. To quote the list provided by Time, Mr. Dreeke recommends:
- The single most important thing is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else's thoughts and opinions without judging them.
- Suspend your ego. Focus on them.
- Really listen, don’t just wait to talk. Ask them questions; don’t try to come up with stories to impress.
- Ask people about what’s been challenging them.
- Establishing a time constraint early in the conversation can put strangers at ease.
- Smile, chin down, blade your body, palms up, open and upward non-verbals
- If you think someone is trying to manipulate you, clarify goals. Don’t be hostile or aggressive, but ask them to be straight about what they want.
These strategies are reminders of what many of our kids may need. For some students, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders, the lack of social skills (as well as other functional living skills) can be deal breakers for them as they move into young adulthood. As we have discussed elsewhere, many of these bright, young adults matriculate at colleges or in jobs and yet fail. They simply don’t have complete skill sets to navigate independent living or post-secondary education. These points could be useful in thinking about and developing goals both in high school and in transition programming.
Emily Iland, an advocate and leader in the autism community, recommends going back to the transition plan for these higher functioning students. Because they have been navigating high school on a college prep academic track, these students haven’t had room to address many of these communication and independent living skills and school districts may not even recognize that they are lacking. Ms. Iland reminds us that these students don’t have to be handed their diplomas at 18; they can continue receiving services until they turn 21.
It is during this transition period that perhaps many of Mr. Dreeke’s recommendations can be integrated into solid transition goals that address pragmatic language deficits, including nonverbal body language, reciprocal speech, and initiating conversations as well as other functional and adaptive skills. Keeping higher functioning 18-year-olds in high school may be a challenge—school districts are not used to not graduating 18-year-olds who have the requisite academic skills—and these higher functioning 18-year-olds, who legally are their own educational decision makers, may utterly balk at not graduating with their peers. However, graduating from high school is a change in placement, and if appropriate can be challenged through due process and the accompanying stay put regulations. It is possible that the student/family can demonstrate that the young adult is not ready for young adult life and needs additional transition services.
I’m not necessarily recommending that every 18 year old with an ASD should continue into a transition program, but I am suggesting that families and school districts consider the student’s needs outside the academic curriculum. The basis for this is of course, a strong and solid transition plan, which unfortunately receives very short shrift for the highest functioning special education students. Mr. Dreeke’s recommendations for “How to Get People to Like You” simply reminds us of some of the skills our students will need as they transition into adulthood.