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  • Katherine Manettas

Social Significance

Have you ever wondered what the social significance of behavior change is? You may think why does my child’s therapist talk about social skills when they are there for behaviors? What does social significance even mean?


The boring way of defining social significance is that it refers to the behaviors and skills that are targeted in treatment that are important to the client and are relevant for social relationships. This basically means that these taught behaviors and skills allow our clients to have full access to their environment and do whatever their heart desires now and in the future. We want our clients to be as independent as they can. Parent training is also a great tool for parents to utilize to learn different ways to teach and explain things to their child.


Some examples of socially significant behaviors are things that we do each and every day like brushing teeth, getting dressed, basic cleaning skills, etc. Some other examples are reading, social skills, and academics. Socially significant behaviors also include things that are beneficial to the individual for the short term and the long term. Something like brushing your teeth is socially significant. It may seem simple, but it can be hard to learn. Knowing how to do this allows individuals to be independent and they will use this skill every day for the rest of their life. Another great example is teaching the individual how to say “excuse me” to get by someone or to get someone’s attention. These are age-appropriate and everyday skills that are socially significant for our clients.


Everyone’s definition of “socially significant” is different. Things that are socially significant to me may not be to you, and vice versa. For example, I was not raised to call every single person “ma’am” or “sir”, I was just taught to say “please” and “thank you” and be polite. For other individuals or families, this is extremely important and can be deemed disrespectful if you do not say these things. Things like this are great for parents or caregivers to ask their BCBA and therapists to work on with their child, and we would be happy to do it!


Another socially significant behavior is making eye contact during a conversation. Is it 100% necessary to live and breathe? No, but it is a social “norm”. If the individual does not make eye contact or is uncomfortable doing it then we can teach them other ways of indicating to others that they are indeed listening such as facing the person and looking in their general direction.


Here is where it comes into play with some of the things that you may have first thought of when looking into ABA therapy for your child. These things may include behaviors such as elopement, vocal outbursts, scripting, aggression, etc. We all want our children and clients to be successful, have lots of friends, do well in school, and be independent. Some of these behaviors may inhibit them from doing these things at times. I will start with elopement to escape something. We have all been in an uncomfortable or stressful situation that we wanted to get out of, maybe you made up an excuse to leave or you went to the bathroom. For children in school it could be that they raised their hand to get a break or held up a break card. Individuals on the Autism spectrum may not think of these options and may elope without warning, this can be dangerous at times. The good news is that we can teach them replacement behaviors! These can be things such as a break card, raising their hand, or even saying “I need a break” or “I want to go.” Socially significant behaviors are taught to allow these individuals to get what they need (sensory input, a tangible item, to escape a task, or attention) but in a “socially significant” way.


If you have any questions regarding this information or anything else ABA related feel free to ask your child’s BCBA or RBT! There are no silly questions. Behaviors can be confusing and overwhelming, especially new ones!


Thank you for reading this post and checking out the NGAC blog! Feel free to take a look around our updated website and meet our team under the “Team” tab!


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