This blog post will step away for a quick second from talking about our Anxiety Groups.  But don't worry, I'll get back to those.  Let's talk a little about social groups...

As you know, kids get bored fast!  That's why I like to add in activities that serve as reinforcement for any group I do.  Having lessons are great, but you gotta make the group fun!  If kids remember fun, they will be more inclined to consistently want to go and participate in your group.  Many of my groups are push-in, or whole group where I go into the classroom.  But I also have pull-out groups for kids who need more intensive services.  When I go into the class to get my kiddos, they are usually super excited to see me and I actually have other kids begging to go, even though it's not their group.  Now, this may be for several reasons, one of which is "anything is better than math" or whatever subject they might be missing.  But I also know that my kids perceive me as fun.  It's one of the first things I learned from my mentor when working with kids with ASD and other learning challenges, is that YOU GOTTA BE FUN.

So, what do I use for activities and reinforcement for my anxiety group???  Well, mostly technology! Kids are gaga over the iPad or anything on the computer.  So we use a lot of apps and watch a lot of videos.  But I also have a few go to software programs that I'd like to mention here.

Social Express has fun characters and is interactive

I found Social Express as an app many years ago.  Immediately I liked it because it was animated kids in situations that dealt directly with perspective taking, emotional regulation and expected behaviors.  It fit well with the Social Thinking Curriculums by Michelle Garcia Winner.  My kids were engaged and could interact with the videos.  It is not cheap, it's $69.99, but chocked full of good stuff.  There is still an app Social Express II available as well.  I recommend this as an adjunct for group or individual.  It's fairly easy to navigate through as well.

Another great program I like is the Model Me Kids series.  These are DVDs with a variety of social stories on them.  They have a series for younger kids at home and at school, and a series for elementary and now middle school as well.  These are well done videos.  For the early learners, the videos are slow and very concrete to understand. A summary of bullet points is given at the end of each short video.  There are files available to print out as well.  Additionally, there are student and teacher workbooks for additional activities and worksheets.  The programs are reasonably priced at around $29.95 each.  Now there are bundles available as well.   Some of the topics that I really thought were well done are "Show Interest", "Body Language", "Empathy" (all on the Friendship series) and on the Tips and Tricks series, "Voice Modulation", "Tact",  and "Blurting".  Two clips that I find EXTREMELY helpful on this series is, "Forgive" and "Being wrong".  I don't know about you, but my older kids with ASD hold grudges for a really long time!  We work on this a lot and I found these videos hit home with some of my guys.

Model Me Kids are a great add-on resource for your social groups!

The recommended age groups for the Model Me Kids vary.  I found using the ages 9 and up fine for my 3rd graders and up. You'll just have to check them out and see.  I love using these in conjunction with my own lessons that I have created based on many Social Thinking topics.  For example, I love using the video on Model Me Kids for "Tact", with my lessons on Social Filter.


Recently, on this topic, were some middle schoolers who were constantly correcting or talking out disrespectfully to the teacher.  So we put together another great lesson on social filter and social norms that also can be used with "Tact".

As an adjunct to your Social Thinking lessons and your Model Me Kids, this lesson is great.

We'll get back to our anxiety group soon and also talk about some more great resources.  Thanks for reading!


Running the child anxiety group was always a highlight of my week.  First of all, we called the group, very appropriately, COOL KIDS.  So right away the kids loved being a part of it.  After we covered our lessons on, "what are feelings", and more in depth on the feeling of "anxious" or "worried", I use a lesson called, "The 3 parts to anxiety".  This explains to kids that you feel anxiety in your body, in your thoughts and in your actions.  This is the CBT underpinnings of this program.

To see this product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store,click on the image

Next we introduced the concept of varying degrees of feelings by using a thermometer.  It was color coded, had numbers and pictures to insure that our guys were able to understand.  We also attached a bead with a string so the kids could easily move it up and down without having to say anything.  This also demonstrated the concept that feelings can get more intense, but they can also decrease.We practiced using this in group for a variety of make believe situations.  Then we used it throughout the day in the classroom, checking in to try and make sure our kids could demonstrate how to use it.

Click on the image for a free download of this lesson

Next we took an inventory of what our kiddos could identify as being anxiety provoking.  This was to be used to customize our lessons and work with the parents.  We did this by circling the images that represented scary things from a series of images.  However, some of the guys wanted to circle everything, so for my little guys or my early learners, we used it more like a game. 

Depending on level of functioning, student either circled the image or used

Cut out the pictures in the first 7 pages of the above document, being sure to include the picture and the caption together. Next cut out the 3 different circles with the captions “a little or not really”, “some” and “a lot”. Use a container, such as small buckets or boxes and attach one label on each container. Cut out the practice items. Using these, explain to your student that there are some things that I like “a little or not really”, “some” and “a lot”. Show each practice item to your student and place it one at a time in the container labeled, “a little or not really”, “some” and “a lot”, depending on your preference. Now ask the student to do the same with the practice items (ice cream, broccoli, onions) Once you have determined your student is able to understand the exercise, move on to the items under “What makes you worry?” Give one picture at a time to the student and allow him to place the image in the container corresponding to how worried it makes them feel.

Don't forget to do your confidentiality!


If your experience has been anything like mine, you find out in a short time who the kids are that have anxiety issues in the classroom.  Often times it presents very differently from us adults.  We often see kids who act out that have underlying anxiety issues.  Or we see kids who avoid certain things, who don't like to speak in front of the group, or who are isolated but say they just don't want care about making friends anyway.

As a school social worker, I would often consult with parents to let them know my concerns and perhaps trying to make an outside referral.  Unfortunately many parents are strapped - they have no resources to pay for outside counseling (and there is no quality free or sliding scale providers close by), they are single parents working full time and are unable to take the child to an appointment or perhaps they currently lack the ability to get to the counseling session.  So my choice was to ignore these anxiety issues or work on them at school, knowing that if you make some headway on the anxiety, the child's overall functioning in the classroom would improve.

As I had mentioned before, my last gig was supporting an autism program in a  special education cooperative.  We had a wide range of functioning levels and therefore, I had to work with a variety of ages and abilities.  My itty bitties, or my kindergarten and 1st grade kiddos, tended to have a high level of anxiety, resulting in inflexibility to the max!  Having ASD, being afraid of change and the unknown, along with irrational thoughts was the perfect storm for significant anxiety.  So I went to town and searched and searched for the best Anxiety Prevention program (wanting a cognitive behavioral approach) that was researched based for children on the autism spectrum proved difficult.
At last, I found something!  But low and behold it was made in Australia.  Well, I ordered it, paid for air shipping and within a month or so received it.  I was extremely happy with it!  COOL KIDS, by Macquarie University, had the research and the format I was looking for.

The Cool Kids Program, by Macquarie University
The Cool Kids ASD Program, by Marcquaire University

The only draw back to the program, was it was a bit boring.  The pages were black and white and there sure where a lot of words on each page.  So, as I have done for all my other groups, I modified it.  This meant a lot of time in Power Point.  Additionally, I purchased on Ebay 2 puppets that represented the 2 characters in the program.

Austin is the anxious alligator
Calvin is the calm and cool crocodile

My students absolutely loved the puppets.  And actually, these guys (Calvin and Austin, the puppets) could run the group.  My kids would listen to them and behave for them.

Here is the one of the first lessons I did with my kiddos after we learned, "what are feelings" and then more in depth about the feeling of being "anxious" or "worried".  Feel free to download it!  Next post we will talk more about getting the group going and coming soon, the PARENT GROUP that I run for the kids in my Anxiety Prevention groups!

 Introduction to Calvin and Austin for COOL KIDS anxiety group
Click on Calvin to get your free download of my lesson


Welcome to Social Tweeking!  I am super excited to start this blog to share and receive feedback for those of us who work with children on social emotional/social skills.  I have worked with kids for over a decade now in a variety of capacities.  I have gone from mentor to therapist to supervisor.  My experiences have included stints in mental hospitals, public health clinics, Department of Child and Family Services, alternative school, public school, and a special education cooperative.  I have done group, individual and family therapy.  I have run groups from preK to high school, along with parent groups to boot.  I have loved all my experiences and feel that all have given me insight in some form or another.

My latest passion has been working with children on the autism spectrum, more specifically, kids with aspergers.  This has been both a challenge and a great reward.  Being able to connect, relate to and get buy-in from this group can be frustrating.  But alias, it can be done and when you achieve a success, boy does it feel good.  I started working with this group of kids as a LCSW in a special education cooperative and quickly found this was "my niche".  We work with those students who have a difficult time remaining in their home schools due to behavior.  These awesome students usually came to us with large deficits in social emotional skills.  Most had multiple diagnosis, such as OCD and ADD.  Almost all had clinically significant but undiagnosed anxiety.  We do almost daily social groups but found this was not enough.  We needed more intensive instruction in anxiety prevention and also cognitive behavioral therapy.  With this as my task, I set out to try to find everything I could to assist in instruction.  What I came to find was there was not much out there.  There is Social Thinking, by Michelle Garcia Winner, that is absolutely fabulous, but often times "too high" or "too wordy" for my students, who on top of their ASD, had severe anxiety and depression.  There are some great CBT programs, but not many with evidence in using with kids with ASD. Hence, I set out to create my own stuff, modifying sometimes other curriculum, but also individualizing for my students.  And that's where I am now.  I continue to create and search for the latest and greatest in resources for my kiddos.  I have been dappling in Mindfulness and also Growth Mindset, but am still struggling a bit here.  Please join me in my blog to hear my successes and failures.  Share with me yours as well!  After, it takes a village!