by Kathlyn M. Steedly, Ph.D., Amanda Schwartz, Ph.D., Michael Levin, M.A., & Stephen D. Luke, Ed.D.
Maria, a young girl with learning disabilities (LD), has struggled with peer interactions all her life. She avoids social situations, preferring to work and play on her own. This has begun to seriously affect her classwork, especially how she participates in group projects and pair work, and it’s limiting her opportunities to learn from others and share her own knowledge and skills. Concerned, the members of Maria’s IEP team meet to discuss ways to better support her. After careful consideration, they decide that she would benefit from a focused approach to improving her social skills.
Maria’s IEP team understands that social skills form the backbone of personal and professional success. Social skills help us navigate such everyday interactions as a) exchanging greetings and holding conversations, b) starting friendships and maintaining them, and c) asking for help and instructing others. Maria’s IEP team knows that her difficulties, left unattended, will continue to pose challenges for her both inside and outside the classroom. To help her reach her full potential, they decide that now is the time to act.
Maria is not the only one struggling. Research has consistently demonstrated that many children with LD may also have related social skill deficits. Kavale and Forness (1995), for instance, found that 75% of students with LD also show some difficulties in social skills that interfere with their ability to learn. The good news is that, for many of these children, social skills can be taught. Evidence-based methods for building social skills have been developed by teachers, psychologists, and researchers. One challenge, though, is getting this knowledge into the hands of people who can use it to help children like Maria. That is our goal with this issue of Evidence for Education.
This publication will first clarify what we mean when we talk about social skills and explore their impact on behavior and academics. Then we’ll take a look at what the research has to say about social skills interventions and programs for children with disabilities. This Evidence for Education will wrap up with examples of interventions that can be applied in both classroom and home settings.
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