Dr Richard Lavoie, renowned expert on learning disabilities, recalls numerous occasions when parents have cried in despair in his office. These are not tears about their child’s school work—they are about how he or she is managing with the social side of school.
Lavoie gives two examples of social skills that most of us take for granted but that many learning disabled children find difficult.
The first is the ability to ask and frame questions. Instead of asking, “Can you help me with this?”, a child with a learning disability might simply say, “I can’t do this.” It’s obvious which of the two will get a more favourable response.
The second skill that kids with learning disabilities can sometimes have problems with is what Lavoie calls disinhibition—the ability to hold back from expressing what we are thinking and filtering out what should be left unsaid.
So, what can parents do when their child seems to be burning all their social bridges? Lavoie says that they must teach their children these basic social skills just as they might help with an academic problem.
Lavoie recommends doing a “Social Skills Autopsy,” which he defines as, “an examination and inspection of a social error to discover the cause of the error, determine the damage, and prevent it from occurring again.” Social autopsies, says Lavoie, should be used to teach, not to punish, and should also be done when a child has done something positive.
Key social skills
Lavoie refers to research that points to four groups of children in schools:
- Rejected: Those kids that are openly rejected by peers, and picked on.
- Ignored: Kids that are left alone.
- Controversial: These children have friends but don’t venture much beyond their groups.
- Popular: The kids who everyone likes--even those that don’t know them--a small number of kids fit this description.
The controversials and the popular kids have the following positive traits:
- They smile and laugh at people.
- They greet people in the corridor.
- They extend invitations to play or participate in some activity.
- They are good conversationally.
- They share.
- They give compliments.
- They have a good appearance.
These traits, Lavoie points out, are ones that can all be developed and improved upon.
Pleasing the teacher
Lavoie also shares some tips on how children with learning disabilities can improve their relationship with their teacher:
- Be punctual.
- Make eye contact.
- Participate in class—even if just to check on what the homework is.
- Use the teacher’s name.
- Submit work on time and in the correct format.
- Avoid crossing things out.
- Request explanations.
- Thank the teachers at the end of every class.
The hidden curriculum
School is a classic example of a place with unwritten, unspoken rules, and to complicate matters further, each school is different. Children with learning disabilities are often less able to understand the nuances of this hidden layer.
Lavoie cites a study that asked 1,500 mainstream school teachers who had experience of children with learning disabilities in their class, the three things they thought children with LDs needed to be successful. They listed:
- Following directions
- Staying on task
- Asking for help
- Ability to get started
- Finishing on time
- Reading skills
The first six are all hidden curriculum items—things that might not be obvious to a child but need to be understood and attempted. Other hidden curriculum things might be navigating around the physical environment of the school, knowing who does what, who you should talk to about particular things, and even understanding the school timetable.
Lavoie also cautions against children missing out on after school clubs because they are receiving extra academic help—going to a club with the few children who might share a child’s interests could be the social lifeline for a child and academics should not be put first.
Dr Richard Lavoie, an expert on learning disabilities, urges parents to learn how to coach their children through the social aspects of school as keenly as they would the academic. Learn more about Dr Richard Lavoie at www.ricklavoie.com.