Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Learning Disabilities and Social Competence: A Social Ecological Perspective

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Learning Disabilities and Social Competence: A Social Ecological Perspective

Article excerpt

* The justification for mainstreaming children with mild disabilities, particularly those with learning disabilities (LD), into regular classrooms has always been based less on possible academic gains for children with disabilities and more on the potential social benefits for all children that would result from such integration (Dunn, 1968). It was expected that creating a single social group would enhance the social competence of children with mild disabilities by providing them more sophisticated social models while providing other children opportunities to interact with youngsters with disabilities, thus reducing the mystique and stigma associated with disability (Coleman, 1985). Unfortunately, empirical evidence to support mainstreaming as a method of enhancing the social competence of children with mild disabilities is scarce. Instead, research has suggested that the social interaction skills and social acceptance of children with LD remain deficient in comparison to other children (Fox, 1989). This seems true regardless of whether the judgment of the child's social competence is based on teachers' perceptions (Bursuck, 1989; McKinney, McClure, & Feagan, 1982), parents' perceptions (Gresham & Reschly, 1986; Sater & French, 1989), peer perceptions (Bryan, 1974; Garrett & Crump, 1980; Kistner & Gatlin, 1989; Vaughn, Hogan, Kouzekanani, & Shapiro, 1990), or the actual behavior of children observed in social interaction (Bryan, 1974; Bryan & Bryan, 1978). In fact, the data have so consistently linked social skills deficits and peer rejection to mild disabilities that it has been suggested that such difficulties be considered criteria for defining (LD) (Interagency Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1987).

Despite the evidence, we believe that linking social competence to a definition of LD is premature for several reasons. First, it overlooks the fact that sociometric studies comparing the social status of children with LD to their peers suggest that many of these children are accepted by their peers. Dudley-Marling and Edmiason (1985), in their review of research on the social status of children with LD, concluded that most such children enjoy relatively neutral social status. Perlmutter, Crocker, Corday, and Garstecki (1983) reported that a substantial number of children with disabilities were judged popular by their peers without disabilities. Finally, Sater and French (1989) provided some evidence that differences in social competence between accepted and rejected children with LD may be comparable to those found between liked and disliked children without disabilities. It is clear that social deficits and peer rejection are not common denominators for LD and that many children experience academic difficulties independent of social acceptance by their peers.

A second objection to including social competence within a definition of LD is the lack of evidence to suggest how they might be linked causally. Children with LD in the educational mainstream represent only a small proportion of the children who are actively rejected by their peers. Most rejected children have not been assigned disability labels or received special services. However, they do share with children labeled as having LD the characteristic of low achievement, which is predictive of lower social status (Hartup, 1983). It has been argued (Bruck, 1986) that low social status, not a disability, is linked to school failure.

Only a few studies have attempted to compare the social competence of students with and without disabilities, having first matched the groups on achievement. Bursuck (1989) contrasted low-achieving students to those with LD on three dimensions of social competence. Though finding differences between the two groups in terms of peer acceptance, Bursuck found the groups comparable on both teacher and self-ratings of various facets of social competence. Sater and French (1989) also compared small groups of low-achieving children and those with LD and reported no between-group differences with regard to sociometric status or the incidence of peer rejection. …

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