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WHAT WORKS FOR PROMOTING AND ENHANCING POSITIVE

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Publication #2011-074301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20008Phone 202-572-6000 Fax 202-362-8420 www.childtrends.orgWHAT WORKS FOR PROMOTING AND ENHANCING POSITIVE SOCIAL SKILLS:Lessons from Experimental Evaluations of Programs and InterventionsTawana Bandy, B.S. and Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D.March 2011OVERVIEWPositive social skills are recognized as critical for healthy social development. Children with positivesocial skills are more likely to have high self-esteem, have positive relationships with peers,1 and achievein school.2 Moreover, research finds that positive social skills are associated with positive later lifeoutcomes, such as successful marriages and careers.3 On the other hand, deficits in social skills are relatedto aggressive behaviors, such as bullying, fighting and delinquency.4 Identification of interventionstrategies and practices that promote social skills can help increase the likelihood of positive outcomes forchildren and adolescents, and reduce the occurrence of negative outcomes.This Fact Sheet reviews 38 rigorously evaluated programs to identify what works to promote positivesocial skills among children and adolescents (such as getting along with others, expressing empathy toothers, trying to resolve conflicts, and regulating emotions and behaviors). This literature reviewidentifies practices that work, or do not work, to promote positive social skills. Most of theseinterventions include multiple components (for example, parent training, workshops and classroombased curricula). For these interventions, it is not possible to determine the specific practices that areresponsible for producing the impacts.Overall, most (27 out of 38) of the program interventions that targeted positive social skills or measuredimpacts on social skills worked, that is, they significantly increased at least one social skill in children oradolescents. Of the interventions that worked, 11 have manuals.i Among the remaining 11 interventions,eight had mixed reviews, and three had no statistically significant impacts.INTRODUCTIONThirty-eight random assignment experimental evaluations that address positive social skills for childrenand youth are examined. All of the identified programs were drawn from Child Trends’ online database ofexperimentally-evaluated, out-of-school time interventions, called LINKS (Lifecourse Interventions toNurture Kids Successfully).ii Findings for the programs in this Fact Sheet are reported in the followingcategories:Not Proven to Work. Programs in this category have statistically non-significant or marginally significantimpacts on social skills.iBig Brothers/Big Sisters Strengthening Families Program, Project SAFE (Strengthening America's Families and Environment), Peace Builders,RELATE Program for Teens, Steps to Respect Bullying Prevention Program Second Step Fast Track Prevention, Leadership Education ThroughAthletic Development (LEAD) Reconnecting Youth, EQUIP Primary Projectiihttp://www.childtrends.org/links

Mixed Findings. Programs in this category have varied impacts either on different outcomes or atdifferent times. For example, a program that results in significant improvements in conflict resolution atpost-test, but has no impact at a one-year follow-up would be rated as having mixed findings. Similarly, aprogram that works for boys, but not for girls, would also receive a “mixed findings” rating.Found to Work. Programs in this category have positive and statistically significantiii impacts on at leastone targeted social skills outcome.WHAT WORKSThis synthesis identifies strategies that are associated with program interventions that have been foundto promote social skills. These strategies may be used to design a new intervention or improve anexisting intervention, either in an out-of-school time program intervention or in a school setting. Wehave organized our discussion of strategies and practices around five categories: setting, population,delivery method, staff selection, and content. We describe each element below.SettingImplement community-based programs with vulnerable populations. All sixcommunity-based programs designed to promote positive social skills among children atrisk for negative outcomes (such as substance use, violence, and delinquency), had apositive impact on at least one social skills outcome.ivImplement school-based programs. Interventions delivered in school-based settings werefound to have positive impacts on social skills promotion and reinforcement a little morethan half the time. Of the 32 total programs implemented in the school environment, 18worked.PopulationInvolve parents for children in middle childhood. Evidence suggests that parentalparticipation often works when promoting and reinforcing social skills for elementary-agechildren. Three of five programs that specifically targeted children in middle childhood (611 years) and included parents in the intervention, had impacts on the promotion orreinforcement of social skills.vInvolve peers for children in middle childhood and adolescents. Peer-related activities,including pairing and peer teaching, seems to work during middle childhood andadolescence. Five of seven programs that incorporated activities in which peers either ledactivities or were partnered with another peer had positive impacts on social skills.viiiiReported impacts are those reported by the evaluators to be significant at the p 0.05 level. Note that this literature reviewdoes not focus on the magnitude or duration of the impact, though this information is generally included in the LINKS programsummaries.ivBicultural Competence Skills Program Big Brothers/Big Sisters Cognitive/Affective Empathy Training Program EQUIP, New Hope ProjectUntitled Program for Siblings of Children with DisabilitiesvFast Track Prevention, Incredible Years Series Montreal Prevention ExperimentviEQUIP, Fast Track Prevention, Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT) Montreal Prevention Experiment Peace Builders2

Delivery MethodEmploy multiple instruction strategies. Intervention strategies that combine some levelof teaching, modeling, and coaching to promote positive social skills usually work, but notalways. Elevenvii of 15 programs that use multiple intervention strategies had impacts onsocial skills promotion or maintenance.Integrate instructional technologies. Initial evidence suggests that technology-infusedprograms can work. Twoviii of three programs that used videotapes or DVDs as curriculumguides worked.Staff SelectionUse teachers as intervention facilitators. All eight programs that were teacher-deliveredhad a significant impact on at least one social skills outcome.ixInclusion of paraprofessionals and/or researchers. Interventions delivered byparaprofessionals and/or researchers, for the most part, have at least one positive impact.Of the 29 programs that were administered by a paraprofessional or a researcher, 19worked.xContentTeach problem-solving skills. The most consistent and frequent impacts were found forprograms that taught problem-solving skills. All six programs that focused on improvinghow children solve problems had impacts at one-year follow-ups.xiTarget multiple skill sets. Programs that target multiple skills (for example, selfregulation skills, problem solving skills, and conflict resolution skills) have been found towork. Sevenxii of eight programs and interventions that focus on building andstrengthening multiple skill sets had positive impacts on at least one of these outcomes.viiEQUIP, Incredible Years Series, The Interpersonal Skills Program, Leadership Education Through AthleticDevelopment (LEAD) Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT) Montreal Prevention Experiment, Peace Builders,Problem-Solving Skills Training Program Social Problem-Solving (SPS) Social Skills and Academic Skills Training for Rejected BoysStructured Learning Training (SLT)viiiIncredible Years Series, Social Problem-Solving (SPS)ixAnger Coping Program, Fast Track Prevention, Reconnecting Youth, RELATE Program for Teens Strengthening Families Program,Structured Learning Training (SLT), The Interpersonal Skills Program, Second StepxBicultural Competence Skills Program Big Brothers/Big Sisters Children Are People Too (CAP)Communication Skills Training program (CST) Incredible Years Series, Leadership Education Through Athletic Development (LEAD) Linking theInterests of Families and Teachers (LIFT) Montreal Prevention Experiment, New Hope Project, Peace Builders, Positive Youth DevelopmentProgram, Problem-Solving Skills Training Program Project SAFE (Strengthening America's Families and Environment)Social Skills and Academic Skills Training for Rejected Boys, Social Skills Training Program for Children's SocialFunctioning Steps to Respect Bullying Prevention ProgramxiAnger Coping Program Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT) Project SAFE (Strengthening America's Families andEnvironment) Problem Solving Skills Training Social Problem-Solving (SPS), Strengthening Families ProgramxiiSocial Relations Interventions, Bicultural Competence Skills Program, New Hope Project, Project SAFE (Strengthening America'sFamilies and Environment), Incredible Years Series, The Aban Aya Project Safe Dates Bicultural Competence Skills Program Big Brothers/BigSisters3

Based on three evaluation studies, programs that offer incentives appear to havepositive impacts when targeting aggressive behaviors in children. Twoxiii of threeprograms that used incentives and targeted aggressive behavior were found to have positiveimpacts.MIXED REVIEWSThe duration of programs did not appear to influence whether impacts on social skillsoutcomes were found. For example, of the three programs that did not work, the durationof the intervention ranged from two weeks to two years.xiv Similarly, the 27 programsfound to have positive impacts on at least one social skills outcome ranged in duration fromthree weeks to ten years.No substantial differences were found depending upon the instructional techniqueemployed. Behavioral training, lecturing, and participant-centered strategies (such asrole playing, group discussion, and games) all worked, to some degree, for socialskills. Threexv of 6 cognitive behavioral training interventions, sevenxvi of 9 lecture-basedprogram, and 17xvii of 23 programs that incorporated participant-centered components, allhad significant impacts on social skills.WHAT DOES NOT WORKIt is difficult to draw conclusions about what types of programs, and/or strategies and practices do notwork given that the three programs that had no significant impacts on any social skills outcome varied ontargeted population, duration, approach, and format. For example, of the three interventions that did notwork, two targeted children in middle childhood, while the other targeted adolescents. Similarly, one ofthe interventions implemented cognitive behavioral training, while the other two employed role modelingand group discussion strategies. More research is needed to better understand what components lead tounsuccessful results.NEEDED RESEARCHWhile the majority of intervention programs targeting social skills discussed above were found to beeffective, additional research is needed to understand all of the elements critical to creating a “model”social skills program. Below, we outline some areas that warrant further examination.xiiiLinking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT), Peace BuildersxivMinnesota Competence Enhancement Project (MCEP) Responding in Peaceful and Positive Ways, Social Skills and Academic Skills Training forRejected BoysxvAnger Coping Program, EQUIP, Cognitive/Affective Empathy Training Program ,Steps to Respect Bullying Prevention ProgramxviChildren Are People Too (CAP) Communication Skills Training program (CST) Fast Track Prevention, Linking the Interests of Families andTeachers (LIFT) Positive Youth Development Program, Social Skills and Academic Skills Training for Rejected Boys, Steps to Respect BullyingPrevention Program Steps to Respect Bullying Prevention ProgramxviiBicultural Competence Skills Program Big Brothers/Big Sisters Communication Skills Training program (CST) Incredible Years Series,,Leadership Education Through Athletic Development (LEAD) Montreal Prevention Experiment, Peace Builders,, Reconnecting Youth, RELATEProgram for Teens Social Skills and Academic Skills Training for Rejected Boys, Social Problem-Solving (SPS) , Strengthening Families Program,Structured Learning Training (SLT) The Interpersonal Skills Program, Cognitive/Affective Empathy Training Program Primary Project UntitledProgram for Siblings of Children with Disabilities4

Identification of techniques that work for reducing internalizing behaviors (e.g.,withdrawal, shyness, passivity). In general, most of the programs in our review focused onchildren who engage in externalizing or acting out behavior, and not children who engage ininternalizing behavior. In fact, two of the programs that did not work targeted children whowere socially isolated from others.Examination of the frequency and intensity of positive social skills interventions. Theprograms and interventions reviewed varied in frequency and intensity, but this element wasrarely examined during evaluation.Assessment of outcome differences among subgroups (e.g., age, race, socioeconomicstatus). A better understanding of how interventions targeting social skills affect differentgroups is critical to their ability to have generalizable success.Exploration of the effectiveness of mentoring on the development of social skills. Bothinterventions that implemented mentoring worked, but more evidence is needed to determinewhether and when mentoring promotes and/or enhances social skills.Investigation of long-term impacts. Most of the interventions reviewed only conductedshort-term follow-ups. More evidence is needed on the long term impacts of interventionsthat promote social skill development.DISCUSSIONThe results from this Fact Sheet suggest, in general, that intervention programs that target social skillshave positive impacts. More importantly, our findings suggest that a variety of strategies and practices canbe used to promote social skills. Although few strategies or practices stood out as always effective,interventions effectively promoting and enhancing skills tended to be participant-centered, multi-faceted,and implemented by teachers. For example, interventions that incorporated peer-teaching, groupdiscussion, or role modeling, as well as teacher-led instruction were effective. Similarly, programs thatcombined coaching and/or modeling along with lectures also had positive impacts. The success of suchstrategies provides support for including these components into an intervention targeting social skills.Nonetheless, expansion, replication and further research on intervention programs to promote social skillsamong children and adolescents are needed. This seems especially important given the high levels ofbullying and physical aggression, and other problem behavior in schools and communities across thecountry. 5 More research will aid policymakers, educators and practitioners in their efforts to fosterhealthy social development among all children and youth.5

ENDNOTES1Mize J. (2005). Social skills intervention and peer relationship difficulties in early childhood: In: Tremblay RE, BarrRG,Peters RDeV, eds. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. Montreal, Quebec: Centre of Excellence forEarly Childhood Development. Available at: Gxp.pdf2Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Pastorelli, C., Bandura, A., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2000). Prosocial foundations of children’sacademic achievement. Psychological Science, 11 (4), 302-306.3Bay-Hinitz, A. K., Peterson, R. F., Quilitch, H. R. (1994). Cooperative games: A way to modify aggressive and cooperativebehaviors in young children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(3), 435-446.4Bloom, E., Karagiannakis, A, Toste, J. R., Heath, N. L., & Konstantinopoulos, E. (2007). Severity of academic achievementand social skills deficits. Canadian Journal of Education, 30(3), 911-930.5Maag, J.W . (2006). Social skills training for students with emotional and behavioral disorders: A review of reviews.Behavioral Disorders, 32, 1, 5-17. 2011 Child Trends. May be reprinted with citation.The support of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and The Stewart Trustare gratefully acknowledged.Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at all stages of development. Ourmission is to improve outcomes for children by providing research, data, and analysis to the people and institutionswhose decisions and actions affect children. For additional information, including publications available todownload, visit our Web site at www.childtrends.org. For the latest information on more than 100 key indicatorsof child and youth well-being, visit the Child Trends DataBank at www.childtrendsdatabank.org. For summariesof over 500 evaluations of out-of-school time programs that work (or don't) to enhance children's development,visit www.childtrends.org/WhatWorks.6

Experimental Evaluations of Programs that Examined Impacts on One or More Social SkillsOutcomes and Whether They Were Not Proven to Work, Had Mixed Findings or Found to Work(Source: http://www.childtrends.org/links)OUTCOME AREAConflict-resolutionskills(e.g., dealing withteasing, losing,accusations, being leftout, peer pressure)NOT PROVEN TO WORKProject Ploughshares Puppets forPeace (P4), a school-basedintervention which targets bullyingbehavior. The program had nosignificant impacts on knowledgeabout bullyingResponding in Peaceful andPositive Ways, a school-basedprogram strives to reduce violentsituations and behavior by promotingpeaceful alternatives among sixthgraders in Richmond public middleschools. The program did not have asignificant impact on application ofnonviolent responses.MIXED REVIEWSPROVEN TO WORKThe Aban Aya Project is anintervention program designed toreduce rates of risky behaviorsamong African American childrenin 5th through 8th grade. Theprogram significantly reduced therate of violence and provokingbehavior. There were no significantprogram impacts found for girls.Bicultural Competence SkillsProgram, a 10-session programdesigned to promote "fluency" in thetwo distinct cultures in whichbicultural adolescents exist resulted insignificant long-term impacts on peerpressure resistance skills.Early Risers, a summer programthat promotes positive socioemotional development by targetingyounger children who exhibitaggressive behaviors led tosignificant improvements in socialskills, but the improvement did notpersist over time.Second Step, a violence preventionprogram for elementary schoolstudents, led to significant increasedinstances of prosocial behavior, butthe increase did not persist overtime.Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a wellestablished, intensive mentoringprogram, designed to promoteemotional support, positive socialskills, feelings of safety and security,academic skills, and more positiverelationships with family and peers.The intervention led to significantdecreases in the likelihood of hittingsomeone.Linking the Interests of Familiesand Teachers (LIFT), a school-basedprogram designed to decreasedelinquent behaviors and promotepositive development led tosignificantly greater improvements inproblem-solving and conflictresolution skills.Peace Builders, a school-wideviolence prevention program designedaimed to change school climate bypromoting prosocial behavior andconflict resolution among students andschool staff. The program showedsignificant improvement in childsocial competence and peace-buildingbehavior.RELATE Program for Teens, acomputer-based program designed toimprove behavioral skills. Theprogram led to significant increases inprosocial behaviors.Steps to Respect BullyingPrevention Program, a bullyingprevention program for elementaryschool students, led to significantincreases in instances of agreeablebehavior in the opinion of an outsideobserver.7

Interpersonal skills(e.g., sharing, askingfor permission,joining an activity,waiting your turn)Social Skills Training Program forChildren's Social Functioning, aprogram for children aged 10-13 withsocial problems. It seeks to givethese children the skills to improveeveryday social interactions anddecrease problem behavior withpeers. No significant impacts onproblem behaviors were found.Cognitive/Affective EmpathyTraining Program, a program foraggressive adolescent females led tosignificant increases in affectiveempathy, but not in cognitiveempathy.Picture ExchangeCommunication System (PECS),a program for young children withautism seeks to improvecommunication skills. The programsignificantly increased children’sinitiation to communicate, but noimpacts were found oncommunication or reciprocal socialinteraction.Anger Coping Program, a programdesigned to provide aggressive orrejected Black children with positivesocial skills training to promoteprosocial behaviors and cognitivebehavioral elements. The interventionwas shown to have significantimpacts.Children Are People Too (CAP), aschool-based psychosocial andeducational group program designedto address the problems of childrenwho are exposed to familial substanceabuse. The program had significanteffects on decreasing social isolationand decreasing inappropriateclassroom behavior and other socialdifficulties.Incredible Years Series, a preventionand intervention program intended toenhance children’s social andemotional competencies andultimately reduce behavior problems,significantly enhanced children’sacademic and social competence, anddecreased aggression.The Interpersonal Skills Program, aprogram developed to teachinterpersonal problem-solving skills topreschool aged children resulted insignificantly decreased socialisolation, improved peer relations, andreduced interpersonal aggression anddisruptive conduct.New Hope Project, a welfaredemonstration project, led tosignificantly improved prosocial skills.8

Relationshipbuilding skills (e.g.,interacting withothers, initiatingconversations)Early Risers, a summer programfor aggressive elementary schoolchildren with a parent trainingcomponent, led to the significantderivation of greater companionshipand recreation from friendships.However, impacts did not persistover time.Peer Coping Skills Training(PCS), a program designed foraggressive children in first throughthird grade led to significantly loweraggression levels, but not enough tomove children out of clinical range.Primary Project, a school-based,mental health prevention programfor children at-risk for schooladjustment problems. Significantimprovements were made onindicators of school adjustment. Noimpacts were found forexternalizing behaviors orfrustration tolerance levels.Safe Dates, an interventiondesigned to prevent adolescentdating violence led to significantlygreater reports of constructivecommunication duringdisagreements and significantly lessfavorable attitudes toward datingviolence. Participants, however,were not less likely to report beingvictims of abuse in their currentrelationships.Social Skills Training Programfor Pre-Adolescent Girls with FewFriends, a program designed to usesocial skills training andinterpersonal problem solvingmethods to improve the social skillsof 5th and 6th grade girls who wereselected by their teachers as havingfew friends. Observation dataindicated significant impacts ontime spent alone, and engagement inconversation. No impacts werefound on teacher ratings.Untitled Program for Siblings ofChildren with Disabilities, aprogram designed to providechildren who have a sibling with adisability with a rewarding andsupportive environment had noimpact on quality of siblingrelationships or family functioning,but significantly improved socioemotional functioning, self esteem,social support giving, and anxietyand stress levels.Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a wellestablished, intensive mentoringprogram, designed to promoteemotional support, positive socialskills, feelings of safety and security,academic skills, and more positiverelationships with family and peers.The intervention led to significantincreases in peer and familyrelationships.Communication Skills Trainingprogram (CST), a program isdesigned to promote self-disclosureand empathy in adolescents'interactions with others, led to asignificant increase in levels of selfdisclosure and empathetic response.Montreal Prevention Experiment,an intervention for parents andchildren designed to reduce antisocialbehaviors among boys, resulted insignificantly better scores on measuresof school adjustment and delinquency.New Hope Project, a welfaredemonstration project, led tosignificantly improved peerrelationships.Social Skills and Academic SkillsTraining for Rejected Boys, aprogram designed to increase positivesocial interactions of socially isolatedor rejected children in 4th grade, led tosignificant increases in socialpreference ratings by peers.Strengthening Families Program, anintervention that aims to teach lifeskills to 10- to 14-year olds andimprove parent-child relationshipsresulted in a significant reduction inaggressive and destructive behavior,and hostile behavior towards parents.Structured Learning Training(SLT) a program designed to increaseassertiveness among high schoolstudents who are unassertive oraggressive led to significant increasesin assertive interactions with teachers,peers, and parents.9

Problem-solvingskills(e.g., asking for help,apologizing,acceptingconsequences,deciding what to do)Anger Coping Program, a programdesigned to provide aggressive orrejected Black children with positivesocial skills training to promoteprosocial behaviors and cognitivebehavioral elements. The interventionwas shown to have significantimpacts.Linking the Interests of Familiesand Teachers (LIFT), a school-basedprogram designed to decreasedelinquent behaviors and promotepositive development led tosignificantly greater improvements inproblem-solving and conflictresolution skills.Project SAFE (StrengtheningAmerica's Families andEnvironment), a program for 1stgraders that addresses problemsolving skills. The program waseffective in significantly improvingstudent-school bonding, socialcompetence, and family relationships.Problem Solving Skills Training, aprogram developed for childrenlacking in the everyday social skillsneeded to solve interpersonalproblems. The 24-unit programfocuses on problem-solvingtechniques but also includescomponents to address self-esteem,assertiveness, communication, stressmanagement, and social values. Theprogram was effective in significantlyhelping children consider theconsequences of social actionsSocial Problem-Solving (SPS), aprogram designed to give children inelementary school with deficits insocial problem-solving the skillsnecessary to succeed in daily socialinteractions. The program led tosignificant increases in problemsolving skills (such as alternativesolution generation and consequentialthinking).Strengthening Families Program, anintervention that aims to teach lifeskills to 10- to 14-year olds andimprove parent-child relationshipsresulted in a significant reduction inaggressive and destructive behavior,and hostile behavior towards parents.10

Self-regulation skills(e.g. discipline,impulse control, selfcontrol, andmanaging emotionsand behavior)Minnesota CompetenceEnhancement Project (MCEP), atwo-year school-based programwhich was designed to targetchildren with behavior problems. Theprogram had no significant impact onnegative behaviors.Early Risers, a summer programfor aggressive elementary schoolchildren with a parent trainingcomponent, led to the significantderivation of greater companionshipand recreation from friendships.However, impacts did not persistover time.Bicultural Competence SkillsProgram, a 10-session programdesigned to promote "fluency" in thetwo distinct cultures in whichbicultural adolescents exist. Theprogram resulted in significantlyhigher levels of self-control.EQUIP, a multi-componentprogram aimed at teaching socialskills, anger management, andmoral reasoning to children withconduct disorders. The programresulted in significant decreases inself-and staff-reported institutionalmisconduct. There were nosignificant changes in moraljudgment.Fast Track Prevention, a programdesigned to prevent antisocialbehaviors through the promotion ofchild competencies and improvedschool context, parent-schoolrelationships, and parenting skills.Leadership Education ThroughAthletic Development (LEAD), aschool-based martial arts trainingprogram intended to increase students’self-regulation skills, resulted insignificantly greater cognitive,affective, and physical self-regulation.Positive Youth DevelopmentProgram, a social competencepromotion and substance useprevention program for middle schoolstudents resulted in significantly bettercoping and stress management skills.Project SAFE (StrengtheningAmerica's Families andEnvironment) is a multi-componentprevention program which seeks toprevent risk-enhancing behaviors,which can lead to substance abuse.The intervention was effective insignificantly improving selfregulation.Reconnecting Youth, a school-basedprogram designed to increase schoolperformance, decrease druginvolvement, and improve moodmanagement among high-risk highschool students. The program led tosignificant decreases in anger andaggressive tendencies.Strengthening Families Program, anintervention that aims to teach lifeskills to 10- to 14-year olds andimprove parent-child relationshipsresulted in a significant reduction inaggressive and destructive behavior,and hostile behavior towards parents.11

social skills are more likely to have high self-esteem, have positive relationships with peers,1 and achieve in school.2 Moreover, research finds that positive social skills are associated with positive later life outcomes, such as successful marriages and careers.3 On the other hand, deficits in social skills