Zero Order Skills

Course excerpt from Improving Social Skills in Children & Adolescents

Zero Order SkillsThis subset of skills is best defined as skills that are only significant when they fail to exist. “The ability to follow another person’s gazing gesture (head turn paired with eye gaze shift) or pointing gesture is an important milestone in early communicative development as it serves as a governing factor in both social interactions and referential communication between a young child and an adult” (John & Mervis, 2010).

Many children who have learning disabilities also show soft neurological symptoms. They generally involve coordination and motor skills. Pediatricians will assess soft signs in simple activities, such as “touch your nose with your finger” or “walk on your heels” (Lavoie, 2005, p.13).

These neurological symptoms manifest themselves in the child’s zero order skills. For example, a common soft sign is a child’s inability to track with his eyes without moving his head. When you are having a conversation with others at the dinner table, you make eye contact with each person as he or she speaks. You establish eye contact by moving your head slightly and moving your eyes to meet the gaze of your conversation partner. Children with this soft sign may, instead, keep their eyes fixed and move their head in order to establish and maintain eye contact. As you can imagine, this behavior will be viewed as odd. Although the behavior is normal for an infant, it is uncommon for a school-age child.

The ability to track a conversation as a zero order skill is noticeable only when it does not exist. It is highly unlikely that you would say, “I really like Frank, He’s so social! He always makes eye contact during conversations without moving his head very much.”

Lavoie (2005) lists the neurological soft signs that are commonly found in children with learning disorders and their corresponding zero order skills:

  • Hyper reaction
  • Hypo reaction
  • Attentional dysfocus
  • Perseveration
  • Motor speed problems
  • Bimanual coordination problems
  • Balance problems
  • Mirror movements
  • Copying deficits
  • Echolalia (repetition of speech sounds)
  • Left/right disorientation
  • Immature distance notion

A significant zero order skill that may be missing in children with social skills deficits is the “standing face.” Most people have a standing face that is relaxed and opened. Those with standing face have a slack open mouth look about them; serious or aloof. This type of face alludes to boredom or superiority. It is not attractive to others and is off-putting.

According to Terra (2010), “the goal may not be to adopt an artificial wardrobe of empty smiles, but to master the facial posture of someone who comes across as engaged and relaxed. This can involve ‘cocking’ the head to the side to convey interest, making 8-second interval eye contact, changing physical position (such as leaning slightly forward), gestures of approval such as sporadic smiles, nods, and ‘aha’ looks, and nonverbal cues (‘hmmmm’, ‘uh-huh’ and ‘ah’).”

Basic hygiene is also a zero order skill, only noticeable if it is not there. Effort needs to be made to teach children basic hygiene because of its impact on social relationships.

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Improving Social Skills in Children & AdolescentsImproving Social Skills in Children & Adolescents is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that discusses the social skills children and adolescents will need to develop to be successful in school and beyond. It will demonstrate the challenges and difficulties that arise from a deficit of these crucial skills, as well as the benefits and advantages that can come about with well-developed social skills. This course will also provide practical tools that teachers and therapists can employ to guide children to overcome their difficulties in the social realm and gain social competence. While there are hundreds of important social skills for students to learn, we can organize them into skill areas to make it easier to identify and determine appropriate interventions. This course is divided into 10 chapters, each detailing various aspects of social skills that children, teens, and adults must master to have normative, healthy relationships with the people they encounter every day. This course provides tools and suggestions that, with practice and support, can assist them in managing their social skills deficits to function in society and nurture relationships with the peers and adults in their lives. Course #40-40 | 2016 | 62 pages | 35 posttest questions

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document). Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion.

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).