A Twitter ‘retweet’ via the LDAWE flashed onto my screen a few weeks ago, and it said this: “Stats Canada reports that 3.2% of Canadian children have a learning disability; that equates to 1 child in every full school bus”. And it occurred to me as I read this that the one child on the bus who has the learning disability would very likely be the child who was sitting alone, being ignored or being bullied. I shared this observation with a friend, who pointed out to me that it would be just as likely that the child with the learning disability might also be the child wreaking havoc and doing the bullying. In either case, the reason might be the same: it is estimated that 75% of children with learning disabilities also have social skill deficits that make it difficult for them to have and keep friends.
It was these kids that Rick Lavoie was referring to when he coined the phrase “last one picked, first one picked on”, capturing the idea that it’s a real struggle for these kids to understand and “fit in” to the social structure around them. It may be that they were unable to learn the social skill or rule in the first place. It may be that they learned the skills but fail to consistently recognize when and how to use them. It may be that a lack of self-control results in negative behaviours which prevent them from either learning or applying good, appropriate social judgment. Whatever the reason, the result can be a child who feels broken, lost, rejected, and unable to connect with the people around them for reasons they don’t understand.
A significant consequence of this kind of social struggle in kids can be anxiety, which only exacerbates the difficulties they are having. Although this is by no means a comprehensive list, a social skills deficit might manifest in ways that include:
- Missed social cues
- Failure to use proper manners
- Difficulty taking turns in conversations
- Missing important pieces of information
- Distractibility, or appearing to ignore others
- Misreading body language or facial expression
- Misunderstanding information, not understanding jokes
- Inability to maintain topic in a conversation, or ending a conversation abruptly
- Disorganized or scattered thought and speech
- Sharing information that is inappropriate (disinhibition, impulsivity)
- Avoidance of social situations
For most of us, how we interact with one another is second nature, and is something we learned mostly unconsciously and without much effort (albeit with a few bumps and bruises, a bit of trial and error, and perhaps a touch of drama along the way). For most kids with LD or ADHD though, it’s not at all natural or easy. The good news is that, although they may need to learn these skills differently, they can in fact be learned with the right kinds of interventions.
For local resources, parents need look no further than the LDAWE’s Child Programs, and in particular the BEST Social Skills Program (BEST: Better Emotional and Social Times), for children 8-12. Their Summer Enrichment Camps also have a focus on social skills enrichment, with lots of opportunity for kids to practice what they are learning. For older kids (13-18), the LDAWE’s Youth Programs include a Youth Recreation Program where kids can “practice their social skills in an understanding environment and… become more active within their own community”.
Without the right kind of guidance and support, kids with social skill deficits are likely to become adults with social skills deficits, making it difficult for them to get and keep stable employment The LDAWE ‘s Adult Programs offer support through their ERASE Program (Effective Resources and Skills for Employment), their Employment Supports Program, (Job Placement, Job Advancement, and Job Retention), and their Adult Recreation Program.
I don’t imagine that it’s easy to be the loneliest kid on the bus, nor to be the last one picked or the first one picked on, but this is not typically a problem that will get better on its own. The reality is that if left unacknowledged and unaddressed, social skill deficits are more likely to become bigger problems than to go away as one grows older. The loneliest kids on the bus often grow up to become the loneliest people in the workplace, if they are able to land and hold jobs at all. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and with the right guidance and support and information and resources, these kids can learn to develop and sustain the kinds of supportive, productive friendships and relationships that we are all entitled to have.
If you’re looking for a good book on the topic of social skills deficits and LD/ADHD, I offer a couple of recommendations:
And finally, Rick Lavoie’s video, “Last One Picked, First One Picked On” is a terrific resource for parents and educators. Check out the Viewer’s Guide below for some very helpful information.