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.
Your Child’s Social & Emotional Skills
The Nature of Learning Disabilities
One of the hallmark features of learning disabilities (LD) is inconsistent performance. Research studies with children, adolescents and adults with LD frequently point to sometimes erratic and often confusing profiles of individuals who seem to be able to do some things quite well while struggling dramatically to perform other tasks.
As 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)
Any 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).
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.
Children 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.
Self-esteem results from viewing yourself positively within the context of your surroundings. How well you get along with peers and family members and how you judge yourself in comparison with others shapes your self-esteem. Whether at home, school, or the workplace, how well you understand and respond to ever-changing interpersonal demands also shapes your self-esteem.
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.
The 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.
“The primary need of all human beings is to be liked and accepted by other human beings,” says Richard Lavoie, a nationally recognized expert in the field of learning disabilities. “These kids want to be liked by others.”
- 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:
- 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.
- Lavoie, Rick (1994). Teacher's Guide to Last One Picked-First One Picked On: Learning Disabilities and Social Skills (excerpt).
- Learning Disabilities Quarterly, Winter 2004, Volume 21, no.1. Social-Emotional Side of Learning Disabilities. Council for Learning Disabilities, Leesburg, VA.
- Raskind, Marshall H. et al (1999). Patterns of Change and Predictors of Success in Individuals with Learning Disabilities: Results From a Twenty-Year Longitudinal Study. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 14, (1), 35-49. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD is the Director of LD Resources & Essential Information at the National Center for 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.
Adolescence is a trying time under the best of circumstances. For teens with learning disabilities, the daily and life-long struggles of coping with their disability-related symptoms can be wearing and dispiriting. Repeated failure, taunts from peers, and negative feedback from teachers often come at a considerable psychological cost.
As 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.
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.
Research tells us that kids who struggle with learning worry a lot about whether they are “not as smart” as other kids, and are more likely to attribute their successes to luck than to well-deserved grades that result from hard work.
When 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?
With each passing year, you no doubt take stock of the nutrients you’re providing your child. Is your child getting enough fruits and vegetables? Are those weekly pizzas and Pop-Tarts putting her on a path to obesity? Does he need a multivitamin to make up for a sketchy diet?
What 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.
Clinical 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.
Children 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.
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.
Social SkillsSelf-confidence comes from knowing what you do well and using your unique strengths to accomplish your goals. Building successful social relationships may require that you use a different set of skills that may also be affected by your disability, such as the following:
Is your child or teen finding every excuse in the book to avoid going to school? Spending all her time alone? Having trouble eating or sleeping? Or, is something just not quite right, and you’re not sure how to deal with it?
Learning to successfully interact with others is one of the most important parts of a child’s development. This can be yet another stumbling block for children with learning disabilities (LD): many struggle to develop the skills they need to be competent in social situations. But as a parent, you have the power to help guide your child to social success.
Success 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.
The 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.
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.
The following is a transcription of the podcast, "A Parent's Perspective—The Social and Emotional World of Children With LD."
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.
Your 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?
Clinical 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.
Being nervous about the start of school is normal for a child, but there are a few things you can do as a parent to make the transition easier. The first is to decide whether it’s more likely that your child will be most nervous about the academic or social aspects of school. If it’s social aspects, read the tips below.
Being nervous about school is normal for a child, but there are a few things you can do as a parent to make the transition easier. If your child is nervous about social aspects of school, here are some practice questions he can use with peers. If it’s academics she’s concerned about, though, take a look at the tips below.
Life is not just about school, but sometimes having fun can be hard when it is connected with reading and math. These are a few apps that can help to minimize or remove the stuff that poses barriers to fun for the person with LD. We’ve looked at each of these tools and games, and we think you’ll enjoy them, too. So relax and have fun!
Language disorders can make it hard for children to engage in the normal give-and-take of conversation. Depending on your child’s particular language issue, different social skills may be affected. Here are some common social challenges—and ways to help.
|The following is an excerpt from chapter 5 of the book Nowhere To Hide: Why Kids with ADHD & LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It, by Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.|
The 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.
To succeed in math or reading your child needs specific skills. The same goes for connecting with other kids and making friends. Here are the four types of skills needed to make friends.
Formal 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.