Social and Emotional Challenges of Learning Disabilities
- 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.