- Lowered self-esteem
- Increased anxiety, particularly in academic situations
- Increased sadness or irritability
- Acting out
- Physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches
- Reduced motivation
- Difficulty connecting with other children
- Trouble making friends
- Difficulty understanding what is expected in social situations
Students with learning disabilities may have social problems if they struggle to comprehend new information or situations, organize information into a desired response, or retrieve the language to express a response. Social problems may arise from difficulty expressing themselves, understanding social communication, noticing social cues, or interpreting body language, and tone of voice. These difficulties with “fitting in” can sometimes lead to peer rejection, teasing, and bullying.
- Examine your own feelings and make sure that you are not sending negative messages about having a learning disability. Talk about successful people — like Whoopi Goldberg and Steven Spielberg — who have also been diagnosed with learning disabilities.
- Combat negative self-talk: If your child starts saying things like, “I’m just stupid,” don’t ignore it. Listen and acknowledge their feelings, and be realistic about a situation. Correct any generalizations or misperceptions they may have (e.g., I stink at math vs. it’s taking me longer to understand regrouping). It helps to offer stories from your life of those of others and model how you used realistic and positive self-talk to cope with the situation.
2. Make sure your child or student understands that they can catch up to their peers with hard work and the right supports. Help them understand the purpose of each support provided in the school, especially they are leaving the classroom for specialized instruction or related services. Some supports that may be provided include:
- Multi-sensory instruction
- Repetition and review of skills
- More intense, explicit intervention
- Small group or individual instruction
- Drilling sight words or math facts
- Teaching comprehension strategies to help kids derive meaning from what they’re reading
- Accommodations such as:
- A quiet space to work
- The option to record lectures
- The option to give verbal, rather than written, answers (when appropriate)
- Elimination of oral reading in class
- Exemption from foreign language learning
3. Provide support to help kids develop needed skills and strategies to work around the underlying problem so they will have the opportunity to succeed — academically as well as socially. Students with learning disabilities will often need to work harder than peers to achieve the same level of success.
- Parents and teachers should work together to provide students with strategies and tools to help them plan, organize, study, problem-solve, and learn how to regulate their feelings and responses. Helping them build these skills may reduce frustration and anxiety over academic work.
- Help them find their strengths, talents, or things that they feel good about doing. Provide them with time and support to engage in these activities that give them a sense of mastery and accomplishment and ultimately improve confidence, self-esteem, and overall happiness.
Additional school strategies:
Teachers can help support social and emotional well-being of students with disabilities by being sensitive to their feelings. For example, students with a reading disability may be uncomfortable taking a reading test in front of peers, and may need to be notified ahead of time before being asked to read aloud. The student and teacher can work out a system whereby the student gives a subtle signal when he needs help.
Teachers can provide the appropriate amount of praise throughout the school day so the student feels he is not always getting singled out for negative attention. Providing positive attention may be especially helpful with students who tend to act out to divert attention from their academic problems.
Lastly, students, parents, and teachers can seek the support of the school counselor, school psychologist, or school social worker for additional strategies to address the social and emotional difficulties of students with learning disabilities.
Understanding Dyslexia: Know the signs, and how to help kids with the most common learning disability by Katherine Martinelli
Supporting the Emotional Needs of Kids with Learning Disabilities: Signs your child might be struggling with low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression, and how to help by Rachel Ehmke
Social Challenges of Kids with Learning Problems: Learning problems can affect not just school but communicating and connecting with other kids by Caroline Miller
How to Help Kids Who Are Too Hard on Themselves: Bolstering children who tend to talk themselves down by Katherine Martinelli