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