Ryan wexelblatt Transition Conference presentation 2015
The Skills Students Need to be
Successful in College and the
Ryan Wexelblatt, MSS, LSW
Skills for College
What led me to create this presentation?
Hearing very similar stories over the years.
Looking at the data and research for the student
population I work with post high school.
A desire to educate parents and professional
colleagues as to why I believe these three areas are
essential to the transition process.
And I like an audience….
I hope you’ll take from this presentation
1. An understanding of the terms:
• Social-cognitive skills
• Executive Function skills
• Age-expected independence
as they pertain to the skills that all students need to be
successful in college, post-secondary education and the
2. One strategy to teach in each of these areas.
The diagnostic profiles of the students and young
adults I work with:
• Asperger’s Syndrome
• Higher-independence ASD (Full use of functional
• Learning challenges that effect social and
executive function skill development
How Life Looks for Our Students Until Graduation
“One of the great myths many
parents buy into is that school
performance in adult life.
It does not.”
-Dr. Ned Hallowell
What can “pulling the rug out” mean in the
context of college, post-secondary education or
•Higher drop-out rates
•Lower graduation rates
•Propensity for social isolation/Significant challenges with
navigating new social situations and making friends
•Significantly lower employment rates (underemployment
Upon graduation, students who received a
tremendous amount of support both within and
outside of school may be left with:
•Under-developed frontal lobe functions (executive function skills)
•Difficulty with self-advocacy and problem solving skills
•Over-dependency on parents or caregivers
•Difficulty forming new social relationships (friendships, dating)
•Frustration that they can not independently perform tasks that their
same-age peers or people younger than them can perform
Once students graduate from high school
and transition into college/post-secondary
•Parents can not speak with Educators (FERPA)
•Students are fully responsible for their educational success.
•There is no more “team” accountability.
Students who enter the workforce may have supports but the
decision to employ someone falls solely on the employer.
We need to consider three overlapping areas that students
need support in developing if they’re going to be successful
in the transition process:
Think about all the skills you need to manage your day
Personal: Waking up, going to bed on time, bathing, picking out what
Time-spacing: Knowing when to leave for work, how much time you
have in between stopping at the market before you have to get
Task transition: shifting from typing an email to going into a
meeting, ending your phone conversation so you can re-focus on
Self-monitoring: Changing your tone of voice if you feel yourself
starting to get annoyed with your boss.
Executive Function skills allow you to:
• Manage time
• Pay attention
• Switch focus
• Plan and organize
• Use situational intelligence
• Do things based on your prior
• “Bounce back” after an emotional
Executive function skills aren’t usually fully
developed until age 23-26
30% developmental delay in the acquisition
of executive function skills
Executive Function Developmental Delay
instead of ADHD
How executive function skill challenges “look”:
1.Inability to “feel” time as a concrete concept.
2. Difficulty utilizing non-verbal working memory
3. Initiating and shifting tasks
4. Lack of situational awareness
5. Poor Self-monitoring skills (metacognition)
Key Strategies to Help Develop
Executive Function Skills:
1. Teaching the concept of time as something
tangible that can be felt.
2. Drawing on past experiences/knowledge to
plan/execute tasks in the present
(pre-imagining/future thinking skills)
3. Developing Situational Awareness
Digital clocks can not teach the passage of time because
there’s no physical/spatial movement.
Analog clocks can teach the concept of time as they
illustrate unit volume.
Formula for figuring out how long an
assignment will take:
1. Count the number of tasks (ex: 3 paragraph question answers, 20 math
2. Assign a 1,2 or 3 point value for each task
2=Medium amount of time
3=A lot of time
3. Add up the point value
Answer=How long the assignment will take
Always round up to the nearest 5 or 10
Account for other variables (snack break, etc.)
Activity: Lets figure out how long it will take to do
this math worksheet:
Assign a “2” to this sheet since
it will take a medium amount of
Multiply “2” times “14”
This worksheet should take 28
We round it up to 30 minutes
We shade in the clock with a dry erase marker to
give us a visual representation of how long the
assignment will take.
Remember to account for:
• Setting up
• Putting things away things where they’re
supposed to go
Non-verbal working memory is the
precursor to (verbal) working memory
Non-verbal working memory includes:
pre-imagining skills/recalling past experiences to
enable task initiation.
“If I need to do this, then I need to
execute this task”
If I’m going to the drive-in movie then I need snacks, etc..
Let’s Do An Activity
Take out a piece of paper and
draw a picture of what a 3
page book report would look
like including the cover.
Did you think about what it would look like
when it was finished before you started
Strategy to improve non-verbal working memory
Use visual, declarative language:
•What would you look like if you were ready for school?
•Visualize will the book report look like when it’s finished, draw it out
first with every page you need.
• Picture the things you need to bring to swimming and put
them in your bag.
• Imagine what your room looks like when it’s clean, it should
look like the picture in your head.
Why lists don’t work for many students
with executive function challenges:
What does ready for bed look like? How is the same
but different as ready for school?
What is situational awareness
The ability to take various pieces of
information together and understand them
as a concept rather than disconnected,
Whole Parts Details
Details Parts Whole
What this picture look like to someone who has
difficulty with gestalt processing?
• Someone is working in that office because the light is
• Windows 7 is old, its up to Windows 10 now.
• My sister has Nivea in the bathroom.
What’s going on? Explain in:
Parts: Students are allowed to work together
Details: They are using calculators
By Sarah Ward, SLP of Cognitive Connections.
A strategy to teach situational awareness
Activity: STOP and READ the room
"A child’s EQ (Emotional Quotient) is
not always equal to their IQ
Creator of Zones of Regulation curriculum
Social skills are not a scripted set of
They are the application of social
information that occurs when we are
sharing space with others and want to
ensure that we keep them thinking
about us in a positive manner.
Common misconceptions of social skills development:
• Students “pick up” social skills from being around
• Academically successful kids will just improve their social
skills naturally because they’re smart.
• Social skills need to be taught in a social skills group.
• All social learning challenges have a behavioral function.
Reality of social skills development:
• Improving social cognitive skills is a very slow process.
• It requires much more than teaching “surface skills”
• If kids could improve social skills by being around neurotypical
peers then no one would present with social learning challenges.
• Social learning challenges are a learning issue, not a
mental health issue.
• Maturity helps but doesn’t solve all social learning challenges
The framework I use to teach social cognitive skills:
Michelle Garcia Winner’s ILAUGH Model of Social Cognition®:
• Perspective taking ability
• Gestalt Processing
• Listening/Thinking with eyes and brain
• Abstract and inferential Language
• Humor and human Relatedness
Individuals have various social learning profiles. Their
ability to decode social information can be placed on a
“social radar system”
The two foundational social cognitive
skills to teach:
1. Learn to think with our eyes to decode
social information (thinking with eyes)
2. Understand other’s thoughts, feelings,
intentions (perspective taking)
How to teach “thinking with your eyes”
Use photographs from magazines or books or examples from
TV/movies where you can see the eye-gaze direction of the
people. Ask them to make a “smart guess” on what the
person is thinking about based on their eyes.
Why perspective taking ability is the most
important social cognitive skill to develop:
Being able to understand other people’s thoughts, feelings
and intentions is essential for success in relationships.
Perspective taking skills allows us to adjust what we do or say
in order to keep people thinking about us positively.
In order to be able to work in a group, collaborate, etc. we
need to have relatively good perspective taking ability.
The ability to form social relationships is a better
predictor of future success than grades, tests
scores, IQ scores, etc..
Strategies to teach perspective taking skills
Share your thought process out loud and ask what you (or someone else
might be thinking and feeling):
“I’m having uncomfortable thoughts right now because you’re picking
“What I’m thinking right now is that I hope you’ll stop talking about
anime soon and ask me a question about what I like to do because
you’ve been talking about anime for 10 minutes and I haven’t said
“What kind of thoughts do you think Austin is having about you now that
you yelled at him? How do you feel that he’s having those thoughts
Social Behavior Maps in the Social Thinking books are a great way to teach
Teaching independence skills the right way bolsters
self-esteem, confidence, and the willingness to try
Doing things for someone that they can learn to do
on their own inhibits their development of
executive function skills.
Ages 12 & 13
-Take care of personal hygiene, personal belongings and homework.
-Doing laundry independently
-Set the alarm clock.
-Maintains personal items.
-Change bed sheets.
-Keep the rooms tidy.
-Change the light bulbs.
-Dust, vacuums, clean bathrooms and do dishes.
-Mow the lawn with supervision.
Ages 14 & 15
-Responsible for all personal chores in ages 12 & 13.
-Responsible for library cards and books.
-Do yard work as needed.
-Make a grocery list.
-Help wash windows.
-Responsible to earn money for spending.
PROCESS TO LEARNING INDEPENDENT TASKS
1 You watch me
2. You help me
3. I help you
4. You do it with my supervision
5. You teach me
*Resistance can be expected from individuals who have anxiety around
learning new tasks or who aren’t used to having responsibilities.
Watch the video together then go through the “Process to
Learning Independent Tasks” in the previous slide.
Executive Function Skills, Social Cognitive
Skills and Age-Expected Independence Skills
It’s never too early to start teaching these skills and
it’s never too late-you can learn at any age.
Most people can’t learn when they’re frustrated. It’s
OK to take a break but don’t abandon the teaching
process as a result of the person’s frustration.
Don’t “brush off” these areas by thinking there’s more
important things to learn, or you’ll get to them
• Work with ages 11-adults
• Based in Philadelphia
• In person sessions only
• Social Cognitive Skills
• Executive Function Skills
• Education (Safety, relationship/sexuality/puberty education)
• Private practice provider
• Work with college students on their campus
• Provider through the PA Bureau of Autism Adult Autism
• Provider through the ODP Person/Family Directed Support
Ryan Wexelblatt, MSS, LSW
Skills for College
Soon to be:
The Center for Social and Executive Function Skills
Social Cognition and Emotional Regulation
Social Thinking®: www.socialthinking.com
Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers www.zonesofregulation.com
The Incredible 5 Point Scale by Kari Dunn Buron: www.5pointscale.com
Executive Function Skills
www. CognitiveConnections.com Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen
www.smartbutscatteredkids.com Drs. Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
(comprehensive behavioral approach)
Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (formally
called Collaborative Problem Solving)
Jessica Minahan’s The Behavior Code