Last Updated on February 4, 2022 by Editorial Team
REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S EXPERT REVIEW PANEL ON DEC 24, 2021.
What is your first reaction when you are judged based on only your weaknesses? Obviously, you will want to question the very process of judging. And think about the situation again when judging is accompanied by bullying from peers! It is definitely a strong emotional trigger, right?
It is exactly the challenge that kids with learning disabilities go through on regular basis. There are two possible ways of responding to such situations. Either they socially isolate themselves, or they give it back to others by showing aggression. All these socio-cognitive shortcomings or behavioral problems are social challenges which we will discuss in this post.
Social challenges in LD: Why these arise
We analyze, react and respond to any situational input in a jiffy. It is a natural process that happens within a fraction of a section. Hence, it results in easy communication carried out in an unhindered manner. But, learning disabilities cause various impacts on the overall interpersonal communication abilities of children. Some of the reasons that make social interactions challenging for learning disabled kids are:
- Slow cognitive processing: Limited cognition or attention span impact comprehension abilities which reflect in slow to nil reaction to conversational advanced made. They also exhibit short attention span and have typical behavioral attributes like unfixed gaze, thoughts taking a flight, and impatient listening.
- Low confidence: Kids are clouded by feelings like low confidence and feel like ‘not belonging’ to the societal arrangements. It tends to hit confidence leading to avoiding communication altogether
- Self-consiousness: It is tendency of people around to correct the mistakes of others. Constant pointing of mistakes makes kids with LDs overtly conscious about themselves. Taking longer time to generate responses due to desired of not getting branded as ‘stupid’ is an outcome of this self-conscious behavior.
- Falling short of words: Word processing ability is understandably less pronounced due to lack of learning skill. Thus, kids sometimes feel falling short of words or unable to express. It piles on inside giving rise to negative personality traits.
- Compromised executive functioning: Who to listen to and when, prioritizing tasks, or doing things in correct sequence are tough decisions for a learning disabled child. This lack of executive functioning leads to mistakes, eventually to disagreements and fights.
All these behavioral traits lead to challenges that kids need to combat while interacting in social settings. Let’s explore a few examples of social challenges before moving on to interventions.
Examples of social challenges faced in school environment
Acceptance is a big word for learning challenged kids. The kids with limited learning abilities are exposed to a number of concern-causing situations at school, home, neighborhood, and other social settings. It becomes challenging for parents as well as teachers to control those situations when the diagnosis is misleading or corrective measures are not pondered over well. A few examples are:
- Exposure to bullying: The statistics of bullying at schools show dismal state. Kids bully the children who look and behave somewhat different from them. The targeted kid may either avoid going to school or may not mingle with peers at all.
- Lack of acceptance: Kids find it hard to win acceptance from others because of their inability to perform tasks within given time-period and desired dexterity. It causes poor confidence issues and self-doubt.
- Suspensions and discretionary removals: Since schools ought to have a pre-defined code of conduct at premise, the poor performance, brawls with peers and other disruptive behaviors in class lead to suspensions and sometimes, discretionary removals.
- Chronic absenteeism: Kids go into escape mode to avoid disagreements, rejections, peer pressure and performance stress. Hence, they may bunk classes or stop going to school.
These challenges surrounding social behavior don’t restrict to schools. Kids do favor challenges at home too.
Social challenges faced at home
Kids with learning difficulties face challenges at home too. Non-verbal learning difficulties, difficulty to grasp auditory and visual cues, etc. may lead to uncomfortable situations, such as:
- Comparison with siblings: Kids feel pressure of staying at par with the siblings. When not possible to attain the same levels of perfection, they may show aggression or use abusive language.
- Social Isolation: Learning disability puts kids on spot unknowingly. To avoid questions related to their behavior, actions, thoughts and overall performance, they tend to stay alone, and show disinterest in participatory activities like meeting guests, playing with other kids, etc.
- Parents’ neglect: Parents may become impatient or may have lack of time due to other responsibilities. Their constant trying drains them out too, and they stop paying attention. Lack of knowledge about laws and IEPs leads them thinking it to be kids’ fault entirely.
Interventions worth knowing about
Problems related to learning difficulties have a profound impact on social skills. A few helpful and timely interventions can help kids become emotionally intelligent and tactful in dealing with others.
I. Cognitive-behavioral interventions
Enhancing awareness towards the self and the ability to respond timely and adequately are the two main objectives of cognitive-behavioral interventions. If the child needs practicing social skills, the cognitive-behavioral interventions help build awareness and emotional intelligence. A few tried and tested interventions are:
- Cognitive restructuring: It is done by guided discovery, and remolding negative thoughts into finding a ray of hope. Whenever failure happens, talking a little about it can help child concentrate on achievements made in the process. Also, boosting mind with positive sentences and appreciating work towards building self-confidence and positive acceptance of the self.
- Role-plays: Provide different situations to decode to the child and tell them how they can behave or react. Teaching norms of acceptability can train mind to do appropriate actions.
- Gradual building of skills: Give smaller tasks first, then move on to increasing complexity. Rule remains the same – appreciate for achievements and guide on the challenges!
- Relaxation techniques: Talk about things that make children happy. Teach meditation, music, gardening, patterns making, etc. All these mind-calming techniques boost mental powers required to take on intellectual disabilities.
II. Social Skills interventions
Several organized programs are available to try to help children with LDs combat social challenges. Some of the research-backed intervention programs are:
- PALS: Problem-solving and Affective Learning Strategies. It aims at giving firsthand idea of problems one might face in community environment. Teaching strategies to solve them in a collaborative manner helps kids become confident and self-aware.
- Skillstreaming the Elementary School Child: Various basic social skills taught through behavior modeling, performance feedback, generalized behavior and role-playing activities comprise this program.
- The Score Skills: Share ideas, compliment each other, exercise self-control, express disagreement assertively or recommend changes appropriately are a few training points in this program.
- Social Skills Instruction for Daily Living: Designed for autism and other learning disabilities, this program focuses on skill development that covers preparedness for jobs, personal hygiene, time management, accountability, etc.
Apart from these communication skills training needs to be reinforced to build self-confidence, ease with the expression of ideas, and the art of listening to others.
Learning disabilities require management and tactful interventions to help children transition into adult living smoothly. The social challenges can lead to problems of aggression, misbehavior, social isolation, etc. that can result in negative ramifications beyond control. Early interventions performed in a prescriptive manner can change the social acceptance curve of the learning disabled kids for the better. So, be there, understand, and participate in intervention procedures; your comforting presence matters the most!
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Green R-J. Family Communication and Children’s Learning Disabilities: Evidence for Coles’s Theory of Interactivity. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 1990;23(3):145-148
 Research Article ‘Understanding The Social Challenges Faced By Children With Learning Difficulties’, Dr. Shenfield, Advanced Psychology, 2019
 Managing Aggression using Cognitive Behavioral Interventions, Stephen Smith, et al, Behavioral Disorders, May 2005, p.231
 Social Skills Intervention for Individuals with Learning Disabilities, Kenneth & Mostert, Regent University, Volume 27,2004