Helping Kids Gain Social Skills Harvard's Hallowell to Lecture Here on Learning Disabilities

By Renee Stovsky Of The Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 25, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Helping Kids Gain Social Skills Harvard's Hallowell to Lecture Here on Learning Disabilities


Renee Stovsky Of The Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


FOR Chad Altwies, the problem began early in elementary school.

Like many kids with learning disabilities, Chad spent a portion of his day in a resource room. There, he received tutoring to help him keep up academically with peers and to compensate for attention deficit disorder and auditory and visual processing problems.

But the special help brought special, unwanted attention along with it. Kids teased Chad about being different. Bullies found him to be an easy target for intimidation. Chad - once eager to make friends - began to withdraw. In high school, Chad blossomed academically. But despite the fact that he participated on sports teams, was involved in church youth groups and received counseling from a variety of therapists, his social skills did not improve. "Chad never had a group of friends. And he never went to any dance, homecoming or prom," his mother, Terry Altwies, recalled. "He was immature. He had trouble understanding quick wit or humor. He was a poor conversationalist and listener." For Chad - now a student at St. Louis Community College at Meramec - the experience, while not a happy one, was not devastating. For his mother, a teacher, it was "the most frustrating experience of my lifetime." "Chad used to ask me why kids never called, never invited him anywhere," she says. "But he didn't seem to require a great deal of social stimulation, either. "It was heartbreaking for me, though. I could find tutors to help Chad with reading or higher level math. I spent summers driving him to a `fun' job with other kids at Six Flags. I enrolled him in an Outward Bound program in Colorado, where he could learn to be part of a team. But there just wasn't much progress. It's so hard to teach someone how to make friends." The Altwieses' experience is certainly not unique. Though kids can have social difficulties for a myriad of reasons - anything from being shy or depressed to obese or gifted - a significant portion of the learning disabled population struggles with what nationally known special educator Richard Lavoie describes as the "last one picked, first one picked on" syndrome. As awareness of the problem grows psychologists, social workers and educators are seeking ways to address it. Harvard psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, author of the best-selling "Driven to Distraction" and now "When You Worry About the Child You Love," will be addressing the issue - as well as medical concerns about ADD - during a series of lectures at DePaul Health Center on Monday. (For more information, contact the Learning Disabilities Association at 966-3088). According to Hallowell, one of the reasons children with learning disabilities often appear to be socially inept is that many of them have difficulty "reading" social cues, both verbal and nonverbal.

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