Some children who struggle with their schoolwork also struggle with social skills. This is especially true of children who have nonverbal learning disabilities. They may not pick up on normal social cues like other children do. These children need direct teaching of social skills just like other learning disabled children need direct teaching of academic skills.
Here are some things I have noticed with some of my students and what I did about each. The names have been changed to protect their identity.
Amalia and I passed each other on the sidewalk. I said good morning to her. She looked away and did not speak. I stopped her and said, "Amalia, when someone you know says good morning to you, you need to say good morning back. That shows that you care about them as a person."
Mark needed to ask me a question and stood very close to me. He was well inside of my personal space. I said, "Mark, step back so that there is an arm’s length between you and me." (I showed him what I meant and explained why he needed to do it.)
When Naomi came up to the door with her hands full, I held the door open for her. She walked through the door and did not even smile at me. I said, "Naomi, when someone holds the door open for you, you need to say, ‘Thank you.’"
Jamal walked up to me at an assembly in the gym, pointed at me and motioned for me to move. I said, "Jamal, I was here already. I am happy for you to sit beside me, but I will not move. You should not point at people like that. It is rude."
You should not feel uncomfortable about saying things like this to these children. They are almost never hurt by it and many appreciate that you are helping them to fit in better. If everyone in the child’s life agrees to help in this way, you will notice their social skills improve. Before you know it, they will be the first to say, "Good morning, Ms. McCoy," and give you a big smile.
Livia McCoy spent many years teaching upper school science. She currently serves as Dean of Student Support at The Steward School in Richmond, VA. Livia sees each student as an individual with great potential to learn, and feels her job is to help every student figure out how to be successful in school. Livia says, “I blog about the many smart students who struggle in school because they think differently or have attention issues. I share what I have learned helping these students, their parents and teachers to see how they can experience success in school.” Livia welcomes comments on her blog at SchoolFamily.com.