Autism, Social Competence, and Academic Performance

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Dear Susan,

My daughter is 10 years old and is having difficulty with her reading and focusing skills. She is currently in math lab, but the school refuses to place her in reading lab. She does have a 15-year-old brother who has been diagnosed with autism. She also has difficulty socializing with others in her class and says that no one likes her. She seems to be having more difficulty in school as she gets older.--A Mom in Oklahoma

There are many reasons children do not write well, and often they are tied to the process required for reading. Concurrently, children who are having difficulty in the academic arena in school sometimes have issues with social acceptance as well.

You say that she obviously "feels" that "no one likes her." Have you spoken to the teacher, and did he/she give you any insights? You might inquire to see if there are any social skills/friends groups at the school. Perhaps the counselor could do an "understanding differences" program in class so that the other children will be sensitized to specific issues. In a later email, you eluded that she feels picked on in class. Speaking with the teacher is essential here to distinguish just what is happening as peer abuse is a form of bullying and should be not tolerated.

It is not unusual that she is having more difficulty socially as adolescence is a rough time for everyone! There is some research that states that later success in life can be traced to early social abilities. Consequently, this area of your daughter's development is as important as the academic skills she is required to attain.

You may want to go online to read some articles written by Dr. Sheldon Horowitz, Director of the National Council on Learning Disabilities. He has several papers on the relationship between learning issues and social skills.

Social competence as well as academic performance must be developed concurrently to ensure a child's complete success. Just addressing the two areas you mentioned, math and reading, are heavily laden with ancillary skills. For example, reading is required for joining clubs, filling out forms, finding directions, playing board games, reading warning signs, etc. Math skills are necessary for activities like sequencing of events, time awareness and management, problem solving, and understanding cause and effect. …