The Three Competencies (page 3)
In addition to the evolution of the self-concept based on our growing understanding and increased perceptions of ourselves and the world around us, our self-concept is also influenced by our perceptions of self-competence in three specific areas: cognitive (academic/school/career), physical (athletic/artistic), and social (peer groups) domains (see Figure 13.1).
Self-Esteem Based on Cognitive/Achievement Performance
Children can measure their success relative to their peers in several different areas. For children in special education, learning and achievement can be two areas that cause significant frustration and challenge. These children may work very hard to master tasks, but their efforts may not result in success for many reasons, such as poor memory, processing problems, or difficulties in problem solving. Some children may feel dumb and may begin to avoid academic work because of the frustration and their lack of success. For many children, small group work centers or resource room assistance can provide a safer environment and a slower pace, allowing them to attempt and acquire new skills.
Children should always be praised for their efforts, and tasks should be presented at levels that are neither too challenging nor too easy. Challenges that are too steep will frustrate a child, who may then develop feelings of helplessness about future efforts to master tasks. Tasks that are too easy may provide a sense of false competence and not prepare a child to take on greater challenges. Breaking down complex tasks into smaller segments can help a child to master more difficult tasks in stages that build on earlier successes.
A number of children who receive special education assistance may have a recognizable physical disability (such as a vision, hearing, or orthopedic problem). These children obtain accommodations for their disability in ways that will enhance their ability to learn (for example, wearing glasses or a hearing aid, or using crutches or a wheelchair). However, children with less obvious disabilities (such as ADHD, learning disabilities, or emotional disturbance) may be misunderstood by their teachers, parents, or peers, who may believe that these children are not achieving adequately because of a lack of effort. Such children may be described as lazy or unmotivated or not caring about school. For these children, it is important to praise their efforts and to understand that having a learning problem is a significant burden that they must carry with them throughout their academic years. The more that parents and teachers understand exactly where the child's disability lies, the more they can help the child cope academically and develop a healthy self-concept based on success in areas other than academics.
Self-Esteem Based on Physical Competencies
Although competence in academic areas might be evaluated by our actual achievement in certain subject areas, our competence in physical pursuits may be a function of our athletic abilities, or fine motor skills. These different areas of mastery can assist children in discovering an area other than academics that they can excel in and increase their self-concept, as a result. As the next box discusses, often parents will remove children from extracurricular activities because of their lack of academic success. However, children who are receiving special education assistance have been determined eligible for special services because of a legitimate learning problem that falls within one of the major categories recognized by IDEA.
Did You Know
When children are having academic difficulties, many parents feel that the first thing to go should be extracurricular activities. They reason that because Johnny is failing his spelling tests, he should lose the privilege of playing on the baseball team. However, for many children, not passing spelling tests may be a legitimate result of their learning disability. For some of these children with learning disabilities, athletics may be the only area in which they are capable of excelling. If these children lose the activities, they also lose the opportunity to feel successful compared with their peers.
For children with disabilities, developing a healthy self-concept will often require stretching outside the academic system to include activities that can increase self-confidence and feelings of success. It is important to find opportunities in the community that are available for these children because involvement in these activities might contribute to the development of potential competence and skills, in areas such as sports, art, dance, theater, music, agricultural or horticultural groups, gymnastics, baton, and so on.
Having addressed the need to expand rather than restrict extracurricular activities for children in special education, it is also important to realize that there is a limit to the number of extracurricular activities that should be scheduled. Recently, there has been increased recognition that some parents over-schedule their children in far too many activities, which can increase stress for many family members. We are not advocating this situation by any means; we simply want to impress upon readers that extracurricular activities can be a very important component in building self-esteem for children in special education.
Self-Esteem Based on Social Competence and Social Skills
Although very young children often engage in solitary play or parallel play with peers, as they mature, there is an increased emphasis on the need to develop skills that emphasize interactive and cooperative play with others. Therefore, the third competency—social competence—gains increasing importance as a factor in the development of self-esteem as a child matures.
Developing social competence involves four prerequisite skills:
- The ability to recognize and respond to both nonverbal and verbal information
- Sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others
- The ability to engage in interpersonal problem solving
- Awareness of peer group norms
Children who lack social competence are said to have poor social skills. Children who have special needs, especially those who find it difficult to learn because of a learning disability or attention problems, are likely to experience social difficulties as well. The reason for the overlap is that social learning requires much the same skills as learning in any other subject. If children have trouble with problem solving in academic situations, they are likely to also encounter problem-solving difficulties in social situations.
How We Learn Social Skills Interpreting social information can often result in difficulties if social cues are misinterpreted, resulting in a social mismatch. At a basic level, social information comes to us in much the same way as we learn other information.
Did You Know
Interpreting social information follows the same process as interpreting other information from our environment:
Recognition of social cues → Interpretation of social cues → Response to social cues
Difficulties with the recognition of social cues may result from poor ability to attend to information that is presented verbally, visually, or motorically (for example, through touch). A great deal of information can be misinterpreted if we do not pay attention to subtle auditory cues like tone and emphasis. Misinterpretation at this level often results in missing the main message. If we don't pay attention to a person's facial expression or body posture, we may miss important signals about how receptive a person is to our approaching them at this time. For example, is the person sending signals that say "Approach me" or "Leave me alone"? Finally, not recognizing the difference between a soft pat and a more intrusive touch may result in conveying a completely different meaning than was intended in a given interchange.
Children who have difficulties with academics due to weak attention to visual details may readily miss visual details in social situations as well. Errors in visual attention may result in a lack of attention to visual indicators such as subtle changes in facial expression that provide clues to a person's current emotional status or changes in body posture that can signal fatigue or a high energy level. Similarly, a child who demonstrates poor listening skills in the classroom may also misinterpret social communication by not tuning in at the correct time or by missing important parts of a message.
Interpretation of Social Information Provided that we have recognized the cues appropriately, how can we be sure that we have interpreted the cues in the best way, given the context of the situation?
We learn appropriate social responses through the four competency skills discussed that are acquired over time through our exposure to social input in the home, at school, and in previous social interactions. Interpreting a particular social situation requires that we are able to draw on previous experience to help us sort out what we are dealing with. In order to learn, we need to find predictability in our environment, which allows us to organize social responses into categories of successful and unsuccessful attempts. We also need to be able to make comparisons between similar situations or to generalize the information from situation to situation so that we don't keep repeating our errors over and over again.
Children with specific learning disabilities often have difficulties in the following areas:
- Organizing information
- Attention span
- Memory and expression
- Sequencing information
- Isolating key elements of information
- Transferring information from one situation to another
Can you see how all these areas could affect our success or lack of success in social relationships? All these elements play a crucial role in the interpretation of social events. The skills necessary for the correct interpretation of social exchanges are the same skills required for problem solving in many academic situations. These abilities allow us to learn from our past experiences by storing information about how we acted and what we did in similar social situations. Drawing on information from past experiences also allows us to use our reasoning skills to compare a current situation to other situations in terms of how similar or different it might be and what did or didn't work in the past. Being able to correctly sequence which events came first and how they unfolded is crucial to the ability to understand and anticipate the consequences of our actions. Children who are impulsive often have considerable difficulty in this area.
Social Responding Responses to social situations can cause trouble if the response does not match the situation in terms of timing and/or intensity. Children who are hyperactive or impulsive often overreact to social stimulation; their reactions are inflated compared with what triggered the reaction. Extremely impulsive children, such as those with ADHD, seem to bypass the interpretation component completely, as if they go directly from INPUT → RESPONSE without taking the time to interpret or problem solve.
Children who are passive or hypoactive (slow to respond) may take too long to respond and also miss the appropriate opportunity for reaction. Some children who have expressive language problems take a long time to process information and seldom get their verbal responses together quickly enough to participate. These are the children who take so long to answer that people often end up finishing their sentences for them. Children who are overly passive may be the opposite of the impulsive responder in their passive or nonresponsive manner (for example, providing minimal facial expressions or verbal feedback). These children, in their passivity, give off few social cues to which others can respond. These children are often called "hard to read" and may be avoided by others socially because people are unsure how to respond to them since they provide so little feedback.
Social Responding and the Social Self-Concept A final word of emphasis on the chain of information that takes place in the building of social self-concept. Other people evaluate us by our social responses and they, in turn, direct their responses to us based on their interpretations. It is often from this feedback that our positive or negative social self-concept is formed.
Interventions to Help Social Skills and Social Competence Because social competence is an acquired skill, children who do not pick up social skills naturally can often be helped through direct instruction and role playing. Discussing stories or movies can help children better understand subtleties and nuances in social communication that they may not pay attention to. In addition, discussing social rules—such as turn taking, giving compliments to others, and how to respond to criticism—can all help a child's understanding of social situations and facilitate success in social circumstances. In order to find out more about what areas of social skills a child might be having difficulty with, review the Social Problems checklists in Appendix B.
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- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Child Development Theories
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Social Cognitive Theory
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- The Homework Debate
- Problems With Standardized Testing