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Teaching Social Skills to Children and Teens with Mental Health Disorders, Part 1

It's hard enough for kids to learn some of the big, important life lessons: how to play well with others, what it means to be a good friend and how to be responsible...For children who have mental health disorders, getting along with family and classmates can be a real challenge. As part of our series this week on mental health, KSMU's Missy Shelton reports on a program offered in Springfield and Branson through Burrell Behavioral Health that's designed to teach social skills to children with mental health issues.

This might sound like any regular class but it's actually KLASS with a K...KLASS stands for Kids Learning About Social Skills. And on this day, the instructor, Sally Miller wants the children to color a worksheet by identifying the caring words.

The activity seems to be going well for seven-year-old Brandon. He explains what he's learned from the worksheet.

Learning to be a good friend, a good son or daughter, a good brother or sister is at the core of the KLASS program. It's the only program of its kind in the state, possibly in the country. It teaches social skills to children and teens with mental health disorders. They attend age-appropriate group sessions each week for an hour and a half. The program serves ages 6 through 21. Michelle Houghton developed the KLASS curriculum to meet specific needs.

Parents and grandparents say they see the results. Paula's grandson is in the youngest group of KLASS participants. She says the program is important.

Catching those behavioral and social issues early will lead to better outcomes for the kids. One of the middle school students who come to KLASS, Morgan, says it's made a difference for her.

The KLASS program receives federal funding through Show Me Kids, a comprehensive mental health program. That federal funding will run out next October. Program coordinator Michelle Houghton says investing in KLASS will save money in the long run.

Researchers are tracking some of the families receiving services through Show Me Kids, including the KLASS program and they say parents are getting fewer calls from their child's school about disruptive behavior. Bullying and fighting by the kids in the program are also down. And that means fewer interruptions in regular classrooms.