Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

The Connection between Social-Emotional Learning and Learning Disabilities: Implications for Intervention

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

The Connection between Social-Emotional Learning and Learning Disabilities: Implications for Intervention

Article excerpt

Abstract. The majority of students with learning disabilities have difficulties with social relationships. In this article, three key skill areas in social-emotional learning are identified as the main source of these difficulties: recognizing emotions in self and others, regulating and managing strong emotions (positive and negative), and recognizing strengths and areas of need. Research supporting their connection with learning disabilities is reviewed. In addition, three examples of interventions that are comprehensive and link academic and social-emotional learning are presented. The first is from language arts. The others are pedagogical procedures that draw upon the multiple intelligences to assist students with tasks such as projects or reports and working through academic and social challenges.


   The rationale for educating students with ...
   disabilities in integrated settings is to ensure
   their normalized community participation by
   providing them with systematic instruction in
   the skills that are essential to their success
   in the social and environmental contexts in
   which they will ultimately use these skills.
   (Gartner & Lipsky, 1987, p. 386)

Despite continued controversy surrounding the definition and diagnosis of learning disabilities (Gresham et al., 2003), there is consensus that a common feature of most students with learning disabilities (LD) is that they have difficulties with social relationships. Specifically, they tend not to be accepted by their peers, and they display shortcomings in the way they interact with peers and adults. Further, they have difficulty reading nonverbal and other subtle social cues. Some problems may be linked to the specific disabilities of the child. For example, students with more severe cognitive impairments may lack age-appropriate social understanding of complex interactions. Further, students whose language is impaired may have appropriate understanding of social situations but may have difficulty communicating effectively with others.

Educating children with disabilities in the mainstream has increasingly been identified as a priority in special education (McKleskey & Pacchiano, 1994) based on the recognition that singling children out for intervention reduces opportunities for natural peer interaction and runs the risk of increasing their social isolation and stigma. Furthermore, categorizing students and removing them from the mainstream may cause parents, teachers, and the students themselves to lower their expectations and lose confidence in the students' abilities (Wang, Reynolds, & Walberg, 1988).

However, inclusion in and of itself is not sufficient to redress these children's social relationship difficulties. This is mainly because successful inclusion relies greatly on the power of positive peer modeling. But if the peer models are not so positive, or if the student with LD is not able to extract the right lessons from what is observed, the impact of modeling is reduced. Further, improving social relationships involves building skills, and this cannot take place effectively through modeling alone (Wallace, Anderson, Bartholomay, & Hupp, 2002). A cycle of instruction, rehearsal and practice, and feedback is needed.

Over the past decade, advances in cognitive-behavioral, preventive, and brain research have converged to provide a more thorough idea of the skills children need for positive social relationships. In particular, the work of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning has found that these skills are also essential for effective classroom interaction and a productive classroom climate (Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004).

The construct of social-emotional learning emerged in the literature in a systematic way with the publication of Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators (Elias et al. …

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