Primary Characteristics of Students with Intellectual Disabilities (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 24, 2013

Social Skills Performance

Many of the cognitive characteristics of students with mild intellectual disabilities may contribute to difficulty interacting socially. For example, a low level of cognitive development and delayed language development may cause a student with intellectual disability to have difficulty understanding the content of verbal interactions and understanding expectations (e.g., when to listen, when and how to respond) during verbal interactions. Similarly, difficulty with attention and memory impedes social interactions, as students with mild intellectual disabilities have difficulty attending to important aspects of social interactions, maintaining attention over time, and holding important aspects of what they observe in short-term memory.

In addition to social difficulties that result from general cognitive deficits, students with mild intellectual disabilities share many of the same social difficulties of students with learning disabilities, including the inability to read social cues and interact successfully in conversations, lack of affiliation in school activities, low social status, and negative self-concept.

As with students with LD, these characteristics often lead to lower social status in classrooms and, at times, alienation of students from teachers and peers and lack of affiliation or involvement in school. Moreover, social skills deficits may lead students with mild intellectual disabilities to feel that they are unimportant to peers and teachers and produce feelings that they are not involved in the social community of the school. These difficulties may lead students with mild intellectual disabilities to withdraw in social situations or seek attention in inappropriate ways. They may also behave inappropriately because they have difficulty distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable standards of behavior (Beirne-Smith et al., 2006).

Directly teaching social skills is one approach that may be used to address the social skills deficits of students with mild intellectual disabilities. This may be necessary for many students with mild intellectual disabilities because their limited cognitive and language skills prevent them from developing these skills through spontaneous interactions with peers.

Students with mild intellectual disabilities have little opportunity to interact with age-level peers in school settings, due to the fact that they spend a large proportion of the school day in segregated school settings with other students with disabilities (Williamson, McLeskey, Hoppey, & Rentz, 2006). Extensive research evidence reveals that the social skills of students with mild intellectual disabilities tend to be improved when they are provided with appropriate supports and included in a general education classroom with age-appropriate peers for a large part of the school day (Freeman & Alkin, 2000).

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