Students with learning disabilities, especially those with visual-perceptual weaknesses, often lack insight into the affect, attitudes, intentions, and expectations others communicate verbally and nonverbally. This ability to take others' perspectives is called decentering. This skill typically develops from 5 to 7 years of age and shows marked increases between ages 8 and 11 to 13. At the same time, children naturally transition from being impulsive to being more reflective and able to consider more than one side of an issue. Considering several hypotheses and choosing the best solution becomes easier for them. All this cognitive and strategy growth helps them with their social relationships.
Owing to their various immaturities, students with learning disabilities often take longer to make the shift to understanding another's perspective. Their poor comprehension of social rules naturally exacerbates their isolation and withdrawal. Studies have shown that these children can be less accurate than their peers at analyzing a social problem; foreseeing the possible consequences of various solutions; interpreting nonverbal cues of affection, gratitude, and anger; asking forgiveness; interpreting facial expressions, gestures, or posture; and describing another's feelings. Even interpreting humor in cartoons can present problems. These difficulties are often referred to as nonverbal learning disabilities.
Students with nonverbal learning disabilities have less insight into what's going on socially or how they are faring in groups. This is one reason why they tend to make more negative or competitive statements than their peers, laugh inappropriately, generate fewer options for resolving conflicts, not use eye contact and smiling to convey interest in another speaker, and have a hard time adjusting to new or complex situations. Sometimes these children are well aware of their lower status and functioning among peers, but at other times they unrealistically overestimate this status. It makes sense that poor social perception leads to poor peer acceptance. The learning disabled often try hard to fit in and can't understand the reactions and rebuffs they get from others.
The social imperceptiveness of many youngsters with learning disabilities may reflect immature development rather than a true deficiency. When they interact with younger children or when they are explicitly told what the social expectations are, their behavior can become indistinguishable from their peers. Many have a good repertoire of social skills, but because of their immaturity they need to be taught how to assess the right times to use the right skills. This points to the importance of teaching children not only social skills but also how to better understand the demands of various social situations so that they can apply the skills they have more appropriately.
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