Helping Children with LD Find Social Success (page 3)
"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."
In his December 2005 online chat with NCLD, Lavoie points out that 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.
"I often tell parents 'If you want to teach your kid how to eat in a restaurant, don't set up a faux restaurant in your kitchen to rehearse these skills...take himt to a restaurant.. If you want to teach him how to stand in a line properly...take him to the bank.'"
"I encourage teachers to teach the FOUR R's: Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic...and relationships," Lavoie writes. Here is a summary of his advice for teachers:
- Treat students with LD with respect. "It is always effective for teachers to show particular approval and acceptance of kids who are rejected by the other students. The teacher's acceptance of that child often results in greater acceptance by his classmates."
- Stop the bullying and teasing. "Although 'zero tolerance anti-bullying policies' are generally ineffective, teachers must be intolerant of bullying (verbal or physical)… The teasing will not stop until the adults in the situation take definitive action. We cannot continue to view teasing as a rite of passage."
- Offer direct advice. When you notice that a child with LD is having social difficulties, see if you can't help her practice social skills, make a friend, or develop a solution to the problem. A student who is happy on a social level will be more receptive to learning.
- Learn more about social difficulties associated with LD. Read books, watch videos, and talk with other teachers and professionals for ideas on how to address evolving social challenges. Find out if your school or district has invested - or is willing to invest - in professional development in this area.
Lavoie believes that schools "need to be willing and able to deal with 'the whole child' and work to foster all areas of his development...academic, cognitive and social."
He also points out that including students with LD in classes with non-disabled students will not inherently lead to improved social skills. These students need more than positive role models -- they need "a concentrated, well-planned approach to improve their social competence." It is a school's responsibility, Lavoie believes, to "invest significant time and resources in training staff in social skill training."
The Natural Social Laboratory
Although there are many ways that adults can help children develop more competent social skills, there is only so much that can be done. Ultimately, the child needs to learn through trial and error in everyday life.
"Even the most loving and attentive family cannot meet all of her social needs or teach her all the necessary social skills," Lavoie writes to one parent. "There are some skills that can only be learned in the rough-and-tumble interaction between and among peers!"
Richard Lavoie encourages parents to allow unstructured time for their children to simply "hang out" and interact with peers in positive ways. Playing a traditional board game like Monopoly or Clue, for example, provides a natural social laboratory where kids can learn important skills -- such as sharing, waiting your turn, following the rules, and winning graciously.
For more on this topic, read NCLD's entire online chat with Richard Lavoie.
Richard Lavoie, M.A., M.Ed. has served as an administrator of residential programs for children with special needs since 1972. He holds three degrees in Special Education and has served as an adjunct professor or visiting lecturer at numerous universities including Syracuse, Harvard, Gallaudet, Manhattanville College, University of Alabama and Georgetown.
Rick is probably best known for his videos "How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City Workshop" and "Last One Picked, First One Picked On: The Social Implications of Learning Disabilities". More information on these and other videos is available here
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Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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