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Developing Social Skills and Relationships

By Betty Osman, Ph.D

Learning to successfully interact with others is one of the most important aspects of a child’s development, with far-reaching implications. Although most children acquire social skills by example, and possibly osmosis, research clearly suggests children with learning disabilities (LD) may have difficulty making and keeping friends. Adolescents with LD have also been shown to interact less with their peers and to spend more leisure time alone, addicted to TV, computer games, and the Internet. Certainly not all young people with learning disabilities experience social problems. Typically, the good athlete, class comedian, resident artist, or owner of the most magic cards, is likely to be accepted regardless of his learning issues. Then, too, some children, with or without LD, seem born to make life easy for parents — and for themselves as well. They appear to develop social awareness early in life and, as they grow, display innately good “people skills” — a sense of humor, a positive attitude toward life, and empathy for others, qualities guaranteed to win friends.
But for many children and adolescents with LD, the lack of peer acceptance can become the most painful of their problems. Computers and calculators can help children with writing and arithmetic, but there is no similar technology to help them handle a lonely recess at school, a family outing, or a date. These require social competence.
“Social competence” in this context refers to those skills necessary for effective interpersonal functioning. They include both verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are socially valued and are likely to elicit a positive response from others.
Young people with social disabilities frequently are less able than others their age to figure out how to behave in social situations and less aware of how others respond to them. Therefore, they act without knowledge or regard for social consequences. Most, though, tend to be unaware of their role, perceiving themselves as the victims of others’ mistreatment. Therefore, they take little responsibility for their actions, blaming others or simply “bad luck” for events in their lives. What they do feel, though, is an overdose of criticism from peers and adults alike.
To help young people with social problems, it is important to understand on what level they are having trouble and how their social disabilities relate to their learning disabilities. The immaturity of many children with LD transcends academic areas, affecting their social adjustment as well. Communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal, also have social implications. Children who don’t “read” body language and facial expressions well are likely to miss important signals in life that are apparent to others.
To help children and adolescents develop social skills and promote social acceptance, parents might consider these techniques:
 Listen to children with the “third ear,” i.e., active listening, not only to the words they say, but the feelings they are expressing.
 Initiate and practice pro-social skills at home, including:
o How to initiate, maintain, and end a conversation
o The art of negotiation — how to get what you want appropriately
o How to be appropriately assertive without being overly aggressive
o How to give and receive compliments
o How to respond to teasing by peers
o Practice how to accept constructive criticism
Although not all children and adolescents with learning disabilities have social difficulties, those who do require special understanding, not only in terms of their current functioning, but for the people they are capable of becoming. Although each young person is unique, all have the same needs — acceptance, approval, and a sense of belonging.
Betty Osman, Ph.D., is on the staff of the White Plains Hospital Center, Department of Behavioral Health, Child and Adolescent Service. She has authored several books, journal articles, and videos.

Emily Hoppin

A native from the state of Colorado, USA, Emily first came to Lebanon in 2016 to volunteer teach at a summer English camp for refugees hosted by one of LSESD’s partner churches in Zahle. Upon arriving in Lebanon, she immediately fell in love with the country and knew that she was destined to come back for the long term. After completing her master’s degree in Linguistics at the Free University of Berlin, Emily was finally able to realize her dream of moving to Lebanon. In August 2019, Emily Hoppin joined the LSESD team as its Communications Officer. “Working at LSESD is like putting that missing piece into a puzzle. For the first time in my life, everything fits,” she states. With a knack for languages, writing, and connecting with people, Emily feels as though all of her skills, talents, and passions have finally come together in one place through her work at LSESD. Just as her first name means “industrious”, Emily believes in hard work and perseverance. Allowing Colossians 3:23 to guide her work ethic, Emily seeks to serve the Lord in her role at LSESD with all of her heart, mind, soul, and strength.

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