National Center for Learning Disabilities

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Your Child’s Social & Emotional Skills

Healthy social and emotional skills are among the most consistent indicators of success for people with learning disabilities, even more so than academic factors. Your child’s ability to develop self-awareness, self-esteem, and coping skills, and to build meaningful friendships will have a positive impact now and throughout his or her life.

Social Emotional Skills - Children with LD

Your Child’s Social & Emotional Skills

Tips for Helping Your Child Build Social Skills

Building Confidence - Social Skills For ChildrenAs young children, we develop what are known as “scripts,” or abstract descriptions of a series of actions or events that are necessary to achieve an objective. Typical scripts a child may have include:

  • The format for a birthday party (i.e., you arrive, play games with others, eat cake and/or ice cream)
  • Going shopping (i.e., you arrive at store, pick out items to buy, pay at the cash register)
  • Eating at a restaurant (i.e., you order from menu, eat, pay)

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Is My Child’s Behavior the Sign of a Learning Disability?

Children With Learning Disabilities - Behavioral Problems in ChildrenAny of this sound familiar? Your child’s teacher tells you that your son is having trouble sitting still in class…Every day, homework turns into a teary-eyed, hair-pulling, paper-tearing tug o’ war…Your teen is caught painting graffiti on the bathroom wall…You may be baffled by behaviors like these. And, you may wonder whether they could be linked to a learning disability (LD).

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The Social and Emotional Side of Learning Disabilities

Social and Emotional Skills - Learning Disabilities Social Thinking back on this past calendar year and the scores of studies and texts that I’ve read (OK, maybe skimmed) covering dozens of important topics, I am reminded of how frequently I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Dr. Samuel Kirk’s observation of more than 30 years ago that children with LD, in addition to struggles with academic learning, have trouble with “skills needed for social interaction.” What are some of the social and emotional variables that pose as barriers to success for students with LD? Read on.

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Developing Social Skills and Relationships

Social Skills for Children - Social Skills Help Learning to successfully interact with others is one of the most important aspects of a child’s development, with far-reaching implications. Although most children acquire social skills by example, and possibly osmosis, research clearly suggests children with learning disabilities (LD) may have difficulty making and keeping friends. Adolescents with LD have also been shown to interact less with their peers and to spend more leisure time alone, addicted to TV, computer games and the Internet.

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Helping Your Young Child Build Self-Esteem

Develop Self Esteem - Self Esteem Skills For many children, both with and without learning disabilities (LD), self-esteem is a powerful predictor of success. Social or emotional problems are not the cause but rather the consequence of academic frustration and failure. Not all students with an LD like dyslexia have problems with social competence and self-esteem, but many do. Daily struggles with the challenges posed by a learning disability can erode the enthusiasm and confidence that make learning, at all ages, fun.

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Research Study: Life Success for Children With Learning Disabilities

 About Learning Disabilities - Skills For LifeChildren with learning disabilities (LD) grow up to be adults with LD. That is, many of the difficulties experienced in childhood continue throughout adulthood. Even so, some people with LD follow a life path that leads them to success. They become productive members of society. They live satisfying and rewarding lives. Others find little more than continued “failure.” They are barely able to “keep their heads above water”—emotionally, socially, or financially.

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Supporting Positive Self-Esteem in Teens With LD

Develop Self Esteem - Self Esteem Skills Positive self-esteem is as important to success in school—and eventually on the job—as the mastery of individual skills. And there's no question that doing something well helps a person feel better about themselves, their accomplishments, and their potential to succeed in the future. Learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, however, can make it difficult for teens and young adults to develop or maintain positive self-esteem, which may in turn contribute to a hard-to-break cycle of self-doubt, frustration, and failure.

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Learning Disabilities and the Arts

Art Activities For Kids - Kids With DisabilitiesThe arts are more than a fun, superficial way to keep kids occupied. Art activities can help children with learning disabilities begin to overcome the challenges they face in learning in many different ways. Of course, having a learning disability does not necessarily mean that a person has an exceptional artistic talent. However, music, art, crafts and dance can give students with learning disabilities a chance to express themselves through different media and gain confidence along the way.

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Social and Emotional Challenges of Learning Disabilities

Social and Emotional Skills - Social Learning Disability Are you:

  • Having difficulty adapting to new social situations;
  • Not being sure how to ask for help (and from whom);
  • Looking to peers for how to respond (rather than forming an independent opinion), and,
  • Missing social cues or having trouble reading nonverbal cues (for example, standing too close to someone during conversation even when they pull away, or laughing inappropriately at jokes or telling jokes at inappropriate times)

Or how about:

  • Feeling that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t succeed;
  • Rating themselves as less capable than their peers and lacking self-assurance, and,
  • Attributing their successes to luck rather than hard work, good effort or even innate ability.

I’ll bet that some (if not a substantial number) of these characteristics fit the person you have in mind. While it’s safe to say that individuals with learning disabilities do not typically have significant social-emotional problems, it’s also safe to say that compared to their peers, they do run a greater risk of having problems in dealing with their emotions and in knowing how to behave in certain situations. There is considerable debate about if and how social-emotional skills can be taught, but there is little doubt that problems in this area can and do pose some of the greatest challenges for individuals with LD of all ages.

How important are these skills for people with learning disabilities? VERY IMPORTANT! Let’s look at the results of a much quoted 20 year longitudinal study conducted by the Frostig Center in California. The researchers looked at the “natural history” of learning disabilities in a group of students followed over many years, and one of the main questions they asked was, “What factors promote or prevent the success of individuals with LD?” The study concluded that even more than academic skills, the factors that predicted success over time were:

  • Self-awareness
  • Proactivity
  • Perseverance
  • Emotional stability
  • Goal setting
  • The use of effective support systems

So while much of our attention in helping students with LD is often directed toward improving academic performance, some of the characteristics that really make a difference in the lives of these individuals appear to fall within the social-emotional domain.

Additional Resources

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD is the Director of LD Resources & Essential Information at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Success Outside of School

Learning Difficulties - Kids Learning Disabilities

There’s More to Life than School

School can be a tough place for kids with learning difficulties. Academic demands, coupled with feelings that he’s different from his peers, can lead to stress and frustration and may be the first step on the road to damaged self-esteem. You know this recipe all too well. You watch your child work twice as hard as his classmates to complete homework assignments and see him equating academic difficulty with being a failure.

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Building Resilience in Children With Challenges

Social Skills for Children - Social Skills Activities Children An old man and a child went fishing on a river. No sooner had they gotten their lines into the water than they noticed a child floating down the river in distress. Quickly, they pulled the child into their tiny fishing boat. Soon another child came floating by, then another both of whom they rescued. The old man starting rowing toward shore when the child pointed upstream and yelled, “Wait, we have room for one more.” To this, the man replied, “No, we must go ashore and find out who’s throwing all these children into the water.”

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Steering Your Child’s Behavior in a Positive Direction

Children With Learning Disabilities -  Behavioral Problems In ChildrenAs you’ve looked for explanations for your child’s puzzling behavior, you may have unintentionally laid blame where it should not rest. You may have caught yourself saying, “Try harder” or “You’re being lazy” or thinking thoughts like this. But if your child is struggling with a learning disability (LD), she’s climbing a steeper and rockier slope than most and may be doing her very best to cope.

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Coping Strategies and LD: Enhancing Skills for Success in Life

Social Skills for Children - Social Skills Activities Children The secret to success seems elusive to many people. Is there really a reliable roadmap to health and happiness? And if you have a learning disability (LD), do you need take a different course? Not really. Although research has identified several attributes that form the foundation of life success for people with LD, you’ll likely recognize the universal relevance of many of these traits, such as perseverance and proactivity. Another is the use of healthy coping strategies, the topic of this article.

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Goal-Setting and LD: Enhancing Skills for Success in Life

Goal Setting For Students - Personal Goal SettingWhen it comes to success in life, academic achievement is certainly important, but it can only take you so far. If you don’t know what you're good at, for example, how can you pick a major in college or choose a career path? If you don’t have the ability to deal with a frustrating professor or boss, what kind of grades or raises will you achieve? And, if you can’t stick with a goal, how far will you really get in life?

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Effective Support Systems and LD: Enhancing Skills for Success in Life

Social Skills Help - Children with Disabilities Whether it comes in the form of rewarding work, a sound body and mind, caring relationships, or a close-knit community, there may be nothing you want more for your child than life success. But, when you see your child with LD struggle in school and perhaps with making (and keeping) friends, you may wonder whether things like these are possible for your son or daughter. Without question, yes, they are, but certain factors make them much more likely.

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Stress in Children and Adolescents: Tips for Parents

Stress in Children - Tips for ParentsWhat Is Stress?Everyone is affected by stress and reacts to it in different ways. Stress is a way that our body responds to the demands made upon us by the environment, our relationships and our perceptions and interpretations of those demands. We all experience both “good stress” and “bad stress.” Good stress is that optimal amount of stress that results in our feeling energized and motivated to do our best work.

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Tales of Stress and ADHD: Elementary School

Stress and AD/HD - Students with LDjerryClinical neuropsychologist Dr. Jerome Schultz is the author of Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It and is an expert on stress, learning disabilities, and ADHD. In the following three scenarios, he takes you inside the brains of a parent, an elementary school student, and a teacher as they attempt to cope with ADHD- and stress-related challenges. At the end of each scenario, he offers his expert take on the situation and follows up with tangible (and at times out-of-the-box) tips that parents and teachers can apply.

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Apps for Students With LD: Social Supports and Behavior

Apps for Students - LD Social SupportChildren and teens with learning disabilities sometimes have a hard time with social skills and behavior, including reading or communicating nonverbal signals. The following mobile apps may provide your child or teen with some high-tech support. Although we did extensive research on available apps, we also learned that just because “there’s an app for that” it doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. My daughter likes these, but we suggest that you have your child or teen try them out for themselves.

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Perseverance and LD: Enhancing Skills for Success in Life

Life Skills Learning - Social Skills Help  Are you a college-educated professional who can’t imagine anything less for your child? Maybe you’ve even visualized the famous actor or successful surgeon, earning $300,000 a year. Perhaps goals like these are within reach for your child. But even if they’re not, don’t just give up. Whether or not a child has learning disabilities (LD), you can define success in many different ways. It inhabits the realm of health and relationships and fulfilling work, for example.

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Proactivity and LD: Enhancing Skills for Success in Life

Life Skills Learning - Social Skills HelpSuccess in life is about a lot of things: education, employment, meaningful relationships—and so much more. All parents hope their children will attain it. But most parents who have children with learning disabilities (LD) have at least one moment when they wonder whether their children can truly achieve life success. Not only is it possible for your child, but you also can do many things to foster qualities that make success much more likely.

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Developmental Assets and What They Mean to Your Child

Development of A Child - Developmental MilestoneThe dictionary defines the word asset as “a useful and desirable thing or quality.” For a child, “assets” are their areas of strength. Over the last 20 years a number of research studies have been conducted that have identified 40 qualities or characteristics in youth that reduce the risk of becoming involved with drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, school failure, criminal activity and suicide.

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Talk It Up: Eight Ways to Have Self-Esteem Boosting Conversations About LD

Talk It Up We loved our drive to school each morning. It gave us time to chat about the upcoming day’s events. But in 4th grade our morning routine changed. My daughter became anxious and teary eyed on the way to school. She frequently had stomachaches. Some days she complained about being overwhelmed in writing class. Many times she refused to go to school. This was unusual. She was a bright, hardworking, creative and enthusiastic student. But unknown to me and her teachers, she was struggling to keep up.

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A Parent’s Perspective—The Social and Emotional World of Children With LD (audio)

about learning disabilities–students with disabilities

In this podcast about the social and emotional world of children with learning disabilities (LD), Candace Cortiella, on behalf of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, talks with Judith Halden, a videographer and mother of young adult with learning disabilities. They discuss strategies and resources parents can use to help their children learn and practice social skills in a safe, comfortable environment.

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Your School-Age Child’s Behavior: What to Expect and When to Be Concerned

School Age Children - When to Be ConcernedYour nine-year-old just can’t seem to deal with frustration. When he struggles with a homework assignment or doesn’t get his preferred cuisine for dinner, he breaks down into a tantrum. And he sure does get into a lot of arguments with his little sister. It’s certainly frustrating for you as a parent, and you ask yourself: Is he just being a nine-year-old, or is this something I need to be concerned about?

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Tales of Stress and ADHD: High School

Stress and AD/HD - High School StudentsJerome Schultz - Stress and AD/HDClinical neuropsychologist Dr. Jerome Schultz is the author of Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It and is an expert on stress, learning disabilities, and ADHD. In the following three scenarios, he takes you inside the brains of a parent of a teen, a high school student, and a high school teacher as they attempt to cope with ADHD- and stress-related challenges. At the end of each scenario, he offers his expert take on the situation and follows up with tangible (and at times out-of-the-box) tips that parents and teachers can apply.

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Positive Emotions: Helping a Teen With LD Cope Better With Stress

special-needs-stories-spell-stressWith mounds of homework, looming SAT tests and worries about the future—being a teen in today’s world can be incredibly stressful. Add a learning disability (LD) to the mix, and you’ve no doubt witnessed your fair share of short fuses. You can’t eliminate stress altogether for your teen—nor would you want to. But when stress is taking too high a toll, what’s the answer?

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Your Teenager’s Behavior: What to Expect and When to Be Concerned

Teens - When to Be ConcernedThe teenage years: The mere phrase can bring on anxiety for parents. The image of a moody, rebellious, angst-ridden teen is common on television and in movies. Luckily, this stereotype isn’t representative of how most teens actually think and behave. But even though the high school years aren’t always as dramatic as pop culture might promise, they can certainly be a rollercoaster as teens seek independence and grow into adulthood.

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Typical Behavior Problems at Formal Events—and How to Prevent Them

Formal Family Events—7 Common Kids’ Behavior Triggers at Formal EventsFormal events can be tricky for all children to successfully maneuver. Holiday events, weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations and other gatherings can be especially stressful for kids with learning and attention issues. By anticipating what might cause behavior problems at formal events, you can make it easier for your child to attend and have a great time.

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