Helping Children With LD Find Social Success
“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.”
Children with learning disabilities (LD) don’t just struggle in the classroom. Many of them experience difficulties in the social arena as well. There are certain social skills and graces that do not come as naturally to people with LD, such as knowing how to use a friendly tone of voice, or having the ability to fit in with a group of peers.
Richard Lavoie believes that social skills - and not academic skills - present the greatest challenge to children with learning disabilities. “The average child spends about 1,000 hours a year in the classroom,” he says. “That represents less than 20% of his waking hours. The balance of his time is spent in school hallways, playgrounds, ball fields, school buses and in the community. It is those settings that present the greatest challenge to kids with learning problems.”
How Adults Can Help
“There are lots of strategies to increase the acceptance of these kids,” Lavoie says, “but the most important (and effective) technique is rooted in the behavior and attitude of the ADULT in the situation. If the coach, teacher or group leader consistently demonstrates her acceptance of and affection for the isolated/rejected kid, the other kids are far more likely to accept the child.”
Some children with LD attend “Social Skill Groups,” where they learn about important social skills and practice them through role-playing. While Lavoie acknowledges that such groups can be helpful, he believes it is far more effective for children to practice and develop their social skills in real-life situations.
“These kids simply don’t learn in a clinical and contrived setting,” he says. “They need to learn in a more natural and ‘real’ environment.”
Because many children with LD do not absorb social skills simply through observation, Lavoie feels that it is up to adults to teach these skills. Parents, teachers, coaches, and other adults can play an important role in helping children with LD interact more harmoniously with others.
Advice for Parents
Lavoie understands that “nothing is more painful than watching your child be isolated and rejected by other kids.” Here is a summary of his advice for parents:
Offer direct coaching and advice when needed.When the waters are calm and you are back at home, talk with your child about behaviors that are causing problems in public. Come up with strategies for specific situations, such as standing in line, saying thank you, and using the right tone of voice.
Develop silent signals.Instead of embarrassing your child in public by scolding him, develop a silent signal that both of you understand, such as tugging on your ear, to make it clear that his current behavior is inappropriate.
Learn more about social difficulties associated with LD.Read books, watch videos, and talk with other parents and professionals for ideas on how to address evolving social challenges.
Allow your child ample opportunity to develop social skills in real-life settings.Find ways for your child to interact with other kids through social activities such as teams, groups, or play-dates.