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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.

What Are the “Social and Emotional” Aspects of LD?

Let’s take an imaginary walk down the hall with Joseph, a sixth grader, as he makes his way from his first period math class to his second period English class. He’s already a few minutes late because he needed extra time to copy the homework assignment from the board. Rushing to his locker (on the far end of the hall) where he will hopefully find the text books he needs for the remainder of his morning classes, he is aware of the chatter and bustling of other students moving about but has not noticed the pervasive agitated mood of the students in the hallway. Apparently Joseph missed the announcement that the cafeteria was closed for repairs and that students would have to eat in their classrooms. Not picking up on any of the all-too-obvious facial expressions and body language, Joseph turns to a group of classmates and asks, “Want to play cards in the cafeteria during lunch?”

  • How do you think these students reacted to Joseph’s question?
  • What was Joseph feeling as this incident unfolded?
  • What are the immediate and long-term consequences of Joseph’s having a very different and sometimes ineffective social and emotional barometer?

While it is true that some social skills are more easily taught than others, and that over time, established patterns and routines can compensate for difficulties in social and emotional learning and behavior, these types of problems don’t just go away. They can have a profound impact upon students (e.g. stress, feeling of self-worth) and are linked to all sorts of everyday activities. Social and emotional skills are critical to activities such as personal interactions (“meeting and greeting”) and talking on the phone or via the Internet, and are directly associated with problem-solving, decision-making, self-management and initiating and maintaining positive social relationships with peers and others.

Some Definitions

It might be helpful to clarify what we mean by the words “social” and “emotional.” Social—this word might be best understood in two different ways:

  • Social skills are the specific reactions, responses, techniques and strategies that a student uses in social situations.
  • Social competence is the term used to describe how well (or poorly) a student performs in social situations.

It is the combination of these two things that helps to describe a student’s social well-being.

Emotional: While this word is most readily associated with “feelings,” it is really much more than that. Emotional well-being is associated with what has been called “emotional intelligence,” which includes:

  • Knowing one’s emotions (how do I feel about this?)
  • Managing one’s emotions (given how I feel, how should I react?)
  • Motivating one’s self (regardless of how I feel, I need to...)
  • Recognizing others’ emotions (I know how you are feeling)
  • Making effective use of social skills (the best thing for me to do now is...)
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