Although not every student with a learning disability has problems with parents, teachers, or peers, social problems nevertheless are more prevalent among this group than among students having no academic difficulties. Intervention requires attending to the environmental as well as student aspects of the problem because social difficulties never exist in a vacuum.
Normal Patterns of Prosocial Development
In order for children to behave in a socially acceptable manner, they must be able to judge what is right and wrong. As with other areas of development, moral judgments change with age.
Piaget noted that children less than age 7 or 8 often don't understand why, something is right or wrong; rather, they accept an external source such as a parent or older child as an authority. Thus they tend to be very rigid about interpreting rules. If David takes April's toy, he is wrong because adults say so. The fact that he is taking the toy out of retaliation for April's taking his toy isn't considered. Likewise a lie is a lie, whether or not it was told in an attempt to spare someone's feelings. Children at this age are concrete in judging the magnitude of a misdeed. If you accidentally drop a tray of six glasses and they break this is deserving of a more severe punishment than if you dropped and broke just one glass. And children base their judgments of a lie on how far it departs from the truth. It's worse to say you saw a cow in the street when it really was a dog, than pretending to have better grades than you do in school.
In children over age 8, Piaget noted a gradual shift toward conforming to the behavioral rules of the group and greater self-reliance on following these rules. The parent is no longer considered the final authority. Motives are sometimes considered, and sometimes not.
By age 11 or 12, the child begins to understand that rules come from mutual consent and that rules make life easier for people. Lying begins to be regarded as wrong because if everyone told lies there could be little trust—how could families classrooms, and the world operate if people couldn't be believed? The 12-year-old connects the magnitude of punishments to the perpetrator's motives and justification. In late adolescence, young people begin to fully understand that rules preserve society and that we are obliged to follow them for that reason. From Kohlberg's research with adults, we have learned that a small percentage eventually come to recognize that not all laws are just, and will act to change these laws to better society.
This developmental progression in moral reasoning is extremely important for teachers and parents to understand. An understanding of a child's level of moral reasoning helps us deal with behavioral infractions "at their level" and encourages growth in their social maturity.
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