Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

The Social-Emotional Side of Learning Disabilities: A Science-Based Presentation of the State of the Art

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

The Social-Emotional Side of Learning Disabilities: A Science-Based Presentation of the State of the Art

Article excerpt

Abstract. For over 30 years, researchers have studied the social-emotional side of learning disabilities (LD). This article highlights the science-based research on three domains of social skills of children with LD: characteristics, interventions, and the impact of policy. The article concludes with concerns regarding the translation of research on social-emotional factors into practice and the likelihood that social-emotional problems are being adequately addressed in public schools.


In God we trust, from all else we expect data. (anon)


Special education has long been an empirically based field. Special education policy and practice have been supported by scientific studies since the original IDEA (Public Law 94 142, 1975) included a provision for federal financing of special education research. Typically, special education research has focused on three basic goals: (a) to identify the characteristics that discriminate individuals within a particular disability category from typical individuals or individuals within another disability category; (b) to determine the effectiveness of intervention strategies; and (c) to assess the impact of public policy on constituents.

Today, requirements in IDEA and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate the use of scientifically based assessments, curricula, and interventions. Thus, the results of research have become the criteria for selecting assessment measures and curricula, individualizing instruction, making instructional decisions, charting progress, and planning behavioral interventions at individual and schoolwide levels.

The topic of social-emotional factors in learning disabilities (LD) has benefited from special education's emphasis on science. Over the past 30 years, an impressive body of research has accumulated detailing the social problems experienced by students with LD, identifying promising classroom-based interventions for ameliorating some of these problems, and testing the effect of public policy (namely, class placement) on the social-emotional status of students with LD. The purpose of this article is to highlight the scientific base in each of three areas: characteristics, interventions, policy impact (i.e., full inclusion).


Estimates of the prevalence of social problems in students with LD in the United States range from 38% (Baum, Duffelmeyer, & Geelan, 1988) to 75% (Kavale & Forness, 1996). About 2,800,000 children have been identified as having LD; hence a sizable population of students has LD as social problems. Moreover, social problems have been reported across ages (preschool-elementary-junior-senior high schools-college-adulthood), race and ethnicity (some inconsistencies), settings (rural-urban), raters (parents, teachers, peers, and self-assessments), methods and measures (surveys, observations, and laboratory studies), countries (United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, and South Africa), and time (30+ years). The results of studies on social problems have been replicated many times in many places, and appear to be resistant to the vagaries of time, place, and methodologies.



Self-concept is one of the most widely researched topics in LD. One of the most frequently cited findings is that students with LD have lower academic self-concepts than peers. Although students with LD consistently and accurately rate themselves lower than achieving classmates on academic achievement, their self-concept for social status appears to be inconsistent. For example, Bursuck (1989) and Kistner, Haskett, White, and Robbins (1987) found students with LD accurate in evaluating themselves more negatively on social skills than comparison students insofar as they received lower peer ratings. But Bear and Minke (1996) and Clever, Bear, and Juvonen (1992) found inflated ratings on their self-esteem on social factors. …

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