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Social-Emotional Needs of Students with LD

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Vanessa Scali

on 13 August 2013

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Transcript of Social-Emotional Needs of Students with LD

Teachers Are Life Coaches
We've all seen the label, "LD"...
but what is it?
LD and Emotional Needs: A Look at Mental Health
It is of utmost importance that classroom teachers,
the people who children spend so much of their time with,
are equipped to be aware, sensitive, and
helpful coaches for students with learning disabilities.
Students with learning disabilities have unique learning needs...
but they also have unique social-emotional needs.
Classroom teachers are an important line of defense for helping these students learn the life skills they'll need
for a happy and healthy adult life.
LD and Social Needs: Bullies, Friends and Self-Concept
High Fives and Smiles: The Unique Social and Emotional Needs of Students
with Learning Disabilities
What are the different types of LD?
What's the Big Idea?!
Defining the Term "learning disability" in Ontario

In education, the term "LD" is used a lot. We suspect that a student has "an LD." We have formal diagnoses of LD, MID, DD... but what exactly is a "learning disability?"

There are so many different reasons that a student might come to be diagnosed with a learning disability and it is important to understand what the different reasons might be.
The Ontario Ministry of Education defines a learning disability as a learning disorder that is evident in both academic and social situations. Learning disabilities involve
one or more of the processes necessary for the proper use of spoken language or the symbols of communication, and that is characterized by a condition that:

1) is not the primarily result of:
impairment of vision, impairment of hearing, physical disability, developmental disability, primary emotional disturbance, or cultural difference, and

2) results in a significant discrepancy between academic achievement and assessed intellectual ability, with deficits in one or more of the following:
- receptive language (listening, reading),
- language processing (thinking, conceptualizing, integrating),
- expressive language (talking, spelling, writing),
- mathematical computation; and

3) may be associated with one or more of the following conditions diagnosed as:
a perceptual handicap, a brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, or developmental aphasia.

Source: Special Education: A Guide for Educators (2001) page A19, http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/ guide/specedhandbooke.pdf
What this really might look like in a classroom is a student who appears to learn more slowly than others. Have you had a student who was trying very hard to learn and complete work, but the results were not matching up with the amount of effort being exerted? Students who have learning disabilities might not be able to come up with answers quickly. They might have difficulty recalling and retrieving information that they have already learned. Their attention might be affected. Executive functioning skills (like planning and monitoring their own thinking) could be very difficult tasks.

Students who have learning disabilities need to receive messages in different ways. Their brain might not be receiving messages in one way, for example, by 'hearing' instructions, but this does not mean that they cannot receive the messages visually. Students with learning disabilities need to find the ways that they learn best. They need teachers to help them with this by helping them find and learn compensatory strategies. Providing appropriate academic accommodations and modifications where necessary is important, but that is not where our job as a "life-coach" ends. We must also teach compensatory skills and, very importantly, social-emotional coping skills and strategies to help students understand social complexities. Before looking at strategies, it is important to understand the different types of learning disabilities. This might help us to understand which types will directly affect social and emotional outcomes, and which types have a less direct, but still a profound impact.

The sources I consulted to compile this information have a wealth of information regarding the 'elusive' definition of what "learning disability" means:

Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, http://www.ldao.ca/aboutLDs/Definitions_of_LDs.php#2
National Strategy for Early Literacy, section Research Definitions, p. 6, http://docs.cllrnet.ca/NSEL/Current/NSEL_LearningDisabilities08.pdf
Learning Disabilities can occur in one or more of the following areas...
perception: is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information where visual or auditory senses are most commonly affected
Auditory Processing Disorder
There is nothing wrong with the ability to 'hear,' but there is difficulty understanding the meaning of
what is heard. Reading and spelling can be greatly affected causing students to struggle with:
-phonological awareness
-auditory discrimination
-auditory memory
-auditory sequencing
-auditory blending
-the ability to work flexibly across the psychological processes.

Reading Deficits can include challenges with
It can be difficult to determine exactly where the student's difficulty occurs, as each of these areas is complex and cumulative.
Writing Deficits can include:

- handwriting (related to Visual Processing Disorder)
- spelling (related to Auditory Processing Disorder)
- composition (related very strongly to organization and knowledge of spoken language)
Mathematical Deficits can affect:

- computation (the retrieval of facts and application of procedural knowledge)
- problem solving (the ability to compute, understand language and reason)
- mathematical deficits are closely related to memory
- 'switching' and flexible thinking skills, attention and organization, as well as the ability to monitor one's own thinking are vital for mathematical success
Cognitive Deficits, sometimes called 'psychological processes' can affect:
Visual Processing Disorder
This does not affect the sharpness of vision, but how visual images are interpreted in the brain.
Students can struggle with:
- spatial relationships (math signs, letters, symbols)
- visual discrimination (colour, form, shapes, patterns)
- visual closure (ability to identify a partially hidden object or symbol)
- object recognition (consistent letter recognition, numbers, words)
- whole/part relationships (some students can see the whole, but cannot break it into component parts;
others see the parts and not the whole)

There are lots of strategies available for helping our students to learn despite their learning disabilities. However, in applying the many strategies that are available to us, we must also be prepared to support these students emotionally and socially. Whether the teaching and learning strategies are working effectively or not, research shows that there is an increased chance that students affected by learning disabilities will need our extra support to overcome many issues that have the potential to affect their mental wellness for the rest of their lives (Wilson et al, 2009).

ANY OF THE ABOVE AREAS OF DEFICIT CAN LEAD TO SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL DEFICITS AS WELL. This is the area that becomes more difficult, in my opinion, to navigate as a classroom teacher who is not also educated as a child psychologist!


Wilson, A. M., Armstrong, C., Furrie, A., & Walcot, E. (2009). The Mental Health of Canadians With Self-Reported Learning Disabilities. Journal Of Learning Disabilities, 42(1), 24-40.

Anxiety, Stress
and Learning Disabilities
in Childhood
Childhood Depression
and Learning Disabilities
Children with Learning Disabilities
and Bullying
Helping Students with
Learning Disabilities Make,
and Keep, Good Friends
Inspiring Self-Confidence
and Self-Advocacy
in Students with
Learning Disabilities
It has been acknowledged that there is an association between childhood, learning disabilities, stress and anxiety. Some researchers believe that "anxiety develops as a result of learning difficulties" whereas other theorists have argued that "learning problems are caused by high levels of anxiety" (Nelson and Harwood, 2011, 3). Since academic growth is so important in childhood and children realize at a very early age that they are supposed to learn to read, write and do mathematics, it makes sense that those children who struggle to master academic skills may develop an anxiety reaction in anticipation of possible academic failure (Zinkus, 1979, as cited by Nelson and Harwood, 2011, 3).
Whether children are experiencing anxiety as a result of the difficulty they are having with the work they are given, or whether the anxiety is causing them to have learning difficulties seems important in helping us, as teachers, to remedy the cause. However, it becomes less important to argue about this "chicken-egg" conundrum and to realize that whenever and 'why-ever' anxiety is present, students' cognitive abilities will definitely be impeded. High levels of anxiety limit metacognition and working memory (Nelson and Harwood, 2001, 4), making mathematics, reading comprehension and writing more difficult.
WHAT DO CHILDHOOD ANXIETY and STRESS LOOK LIKE IN THE CLASSROOM? (Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, 2007)

A student might:
- seem afraid of, or avoid social situations
- have difficulty starting conversations with peers and other teachers
- dislike speaking in front of the class
- not participate in group activities
- worry excessively about daily occurrences
- repeat words or phrases several times in a row
- have stomach aches, muscle pain, headaches
- be overtired (from lack of sleep), irritable, restless
WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO (Gasparovich, L., 2008)

- Talk to students about what they're feeling and why. Giving children labels for things they are feeling can help them explain and overcome their worries.
- After you listen to what the student has to say, move on. Talk about something positive or happy as a transition.
- Teach and encourage positive coping skills. For example, you might help a student identify the feelings of "stress" like feeling hot, having a hard time staying still, inability to focus, feeling angry or afraid, and getting a stomach-ache. Encourage the use of a stress ball at a time when students realize that they are starting to feel anxious.
- Model positive self-talk and praise students for using positive coping skills.
- Teach students to visualize what success will "look" like.
- Limit stressful situations whenever possible.
- Have students choose something to focus on for a few minutes (for example, the sound of the classroom air conditioner)
Works Cited:

Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada. (2007) http://www.anxietycanada.ca/english/childhood.php

Gasparovich, L. (2008). "Positive Behaviour Support: Learning to Prevent or Manage Anxiety in the School Setting." The University of Pittsburgh. http://www.sbbh.pitt.edu/files/other/Anxiety_LNG_newsletter.pdf

Nelson, J. and Harwood, H. (2011). "Learning Disabilities and Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis." Journal of Learning Disabilities (January 2011), 44 (1), pg. 3-17. http://resolver.scholarsportal.info.proxy.queensu.ca/resolve/00222194/v44i0001/3_ldaaam

For more reading:

"Helping Kids Cope With Stress." 2013. The Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/stress_coping.html
Research shows that there is an increased risk for students with LD to experience depression. This is important for us, as teachers, to realize because we play an important role in helping to identify students who may be depressed (although, we may not diagnose them, our observations can be vital). Students' behaviours, their interpersonal relationships and ability to cope can all be important indicators for childhood mental health. Also, since low-self esteem is a major indicator of depression, children with LD are at increased risk of becoming depressed because they are more likely to have low self-esteem. So, what are the behaviours that should raise our eyebrows and cause us to slow down and learn more about a student’s feelings?...
Signs of depression that we might see in the classroom:
- Depressed mood for more than 2 weeks
- Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities
- Irritability or anger
- Decreased energy or physical activity; even small tasks seem overwhelming and require too much effort (e.g., students may complete homework at a level less than they can do and/or may not turn in completed work)
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and low self-esteem
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or remembering
- Difficulty getting necessary things done, such as homework
- Difficulty making decisions, often unable to make relatively minor decisions
- Negative thoughts about oneself, the world, or the future
- Tired and listless
- Feeling blah and seeming to have no feelings at all (i.e., feeling empty)
- Reports “Not caring about anything”
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Interpret minor day-to-day events as personal failures or defects
- Blaming oneself for things that are not his or her fault
- Statements that others would be better off if he or she were dead
- Believes that he or she is ugly and unattractive
- Decreased personal hygiene and self-care efforts
- Excessive crying or weepiness over relatively small things (Huberty, T., 2004, S5-46).

It is important to remember that depression symptoms are unique to each individual. As teachers, all we can do is observe behaviours and report them so that students may receive appropriate medical treatment and interventions.

Besides accommodating and modifying student work for those who have a LD, we can do a few things to try to brighten their days as well…
What Teachers Can Do:
Although we cannot diagnose or treat depression, which is a medical problem, we can try to ease the issues that seem to make it worse for our students. For example, we should be making appropriate accommodations and modifications to their work load and academic expectations as outlined in the IEP. There are strategies for easing anxiety and stress as well as for helping students to make friends and overcome bullying. Building self-esteem is also paramount for coping with depression.

Some Strategies for the Classroom:
- Develop a relationship with the student. Many times, depressed students are seeking a relationship with someone who cares…although it may not always seem that way. Be someone who they can talk to.
- Use positive approaches. Do not use punishment, sarcasm, disparagement or other negative techniques. They will not help and will likely worsen the student’s depression. Above all, keep a positive tone. Humour is great, but sarcasm is not.
- Remember that students are not choosing to be depressed. These students need extra care, support and attention; not criticism, punishment or indifference.
- Arrange opportunities for the student to be successful. Schedule pleasant activities that provide opportunities for leadership, for example, with younger students as a mentor or reading buddy.
- Teach organizational strategies to avoid feelings of overwhelming responsibilities.
- Teach problem-solving strategies…for example, if a student is feeling isolated, help them prepare how to approach a kind person in their class who they could befriend.

Works Consulted and Further Reading
British Columbia Ministry of Education: Special Programs Branch. (2001). “Volume 2: Depression.” Teaching Students with Mental Health Disorders: Resources for Teachers. http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/docs/depression_resource.pdf

Huberty, T. (2004). “Depression: Helping Students in the Classroom.” Helping Students at Home and at School II: Handouts for Families and Educators. National Association of School Psychologists. http://www.nasponline.org/communications/spawareness/depressclass_ho.pdf

Maag, J. and Reid, R. (2006). “Depression Among Students with Learning Disabilities: Assessing the Risk.” Journal of Learning Disabilities. 39 (1), pg. 3-10. http://resolver.scholarsportal.info.proxy.queensu.ca/resolve/00222194/v39i0001/3_daswld

Students with learning disabilities are often more vulnerable to bullying than their non-learning disabled peers. In her article, “Learning Disabilities and Bullying: Double Jeopardy,” Mishna outlines several reasons why children with LD are at higher risk for being the victims of bullying.
Many students identified with LD will face challenges with language, attention, and information processing. They may also have perceptual deficits, which make interpreting social information such as facial expressions difficult. These factors may interfere with everyday social interactions and discourse with peers. This makes it more difficult for these students to make friends. Since students with LD are more likely to be “rejected, not accepted and neglected by their peers” they often inhabit an unprotected, susceptible position in school culture that leaves them more vulnerable to victimization (Mishna 337).

Because bullying is a form of aggression in which there is an imbalance of power, students with LD who lack self-advocacy, language, reasoning, perceptual or social skills are at increased risk of succumbing to victimization. Furthermore, students with LD may have difficulty managing their behaviours or feelings. They may be “too honest” and reveal their vulnerabilities. These traits can unfortunately lead bullies to target these students.

What Schools Need To Do:
- Adopt a whole-school anti-bullying policy, instead of singling out certain students.
- Systematic procedures have proven to be most effective, as opposed to dealing with bullying solely on as “as-needed” basis.
- Protect victims of bullying. Teachers need to listen and never turn a blind eye to issues about bullying. Even if the situation does not turn out to be "true" bullying we should be listening to students and explaining solutions to them.
- Ensure that staff is present during high-peak bullying times (recess, transition times when students are at lockers or in the hallways)
- Redirect bullies in “pro-social” ways.

What Individual Teachers Can Do:
- Teach students with LD effective social skills strategies. Younger students may simply run away, cry, or break down. We need to teach strategies that help students to cope and to avoid difficult situations in the first place.
- Direct instruction and social skills training works best in real-life situations. Use situations that arise as teachable moments. Use role-play to practice appropriate reactions and consequences. Ensure that students realize that certain behaviours are perceived as “annoying” by others, and that they should control them.
- Match students who are at risk of bullying with a strong, kind peer within the classroom. Encourage the buddy system wherever possible.
- The real-life classroom is one of the best places for teaching children to communicate their feelings and make choices that will help them to avoid and/or withdraw themselves from difficult situations.
- Use curriculum areas to teach skills that promote community and team-work.
- Perspective-taking (four corners activities), problem-solving, and conflict resolution through open dialogue, debate and persuasive writing done in groups might be ideas that are suitable.

For More Reading:
Amerongen, M. (2005). “Tips for Parents: Bullying and Learning Disabilities.” The Integra Resource Centre, Toronto, Ontario. http://www.integra.on.ca/Bullying%20and%20LD%20-%20under%20revision.pdf

Mishna, F. (2003). “Learning Disabilities and Bullying: Double Jeopardy.” Journal of Learning Disabilities (July 2003), 36 (4), pg. 336-347. http://resolver.scholarsportal.info.proxy.queensu.ca/resolve/00222194/v36i0004/336_ldab

Classroom teachers CAN and SHOULD use their privileged role within the classroom to help students develop social competence and social skills. “Our verbal or nonverbal rejection of any child is readily observed and replicated by children. When you demonstrate that you do not like a particular child…You are giving tacit approval (to other students for their) rejection or isolation of the child” (Lavoie 2007).
What Teachers Can Do:
- Demonstrate that you enjoy a child’s company. This improves his or her “social stock.” Don’t treat the student like the teacher’s pet, but spending time walking, laughing and talking with that student in sight of others (for example, at recess) will draw other students toward him or her.
- Emphasize the child’s areas of expertise, talent or special interests. By spotlighting an isolated child we can increase the interest and affinity of other children toward him or her.
- Offer collective rewards for the whole class. Notice good behaviours, decisions or work that is completed by a student with LD. Allow the whole class to benefit from their success.
- When things might not be going smoothly, say a student is having a particularly difficult day, note that it is your responsibility as the teacher to handle it. Remind students to continue with their own business. Discuss the concept of dignity and talk about how classmates can help one another.
- Have open-discussions. Talk about things that make people different, but always return to the idea that the things that make us the same are far more important.
- Create mixed groupings and change them often; pair students according to their shared interests and motivations whenever possible.
- Give a student a particular job in the classroom that all the other students may be interested in. Allow that student to teach others how to do the job or share it with a caring student (Lavoie, 2007).

Listen not only to what children “say” but also what they’re feeling.
- Practice social skills through role play and teachable moments, especially:
o How to initiate, maintain, and end a conversation
o The art of negotiation — how to get what you want appropriately
o How to be appropriately assertive without being overly aggressive
o How to give and receive compliments
o How to respond to teasing by peers
o Practice how to accept constructive criticism (Osman, 2008).
Works Cited and Further Reading:
Lavoie, R. (2007). “Helping the Socially Isolated Child Make Friends.” LD Online. http://www.ldonline.org/lavoie/Helping_the_Socially_Isolated_Child_Make_Friends

Osman, B. (2008). “Developing Social Skills and Relationships.” National Centre for Learning Disabilities. http://www.ncld.org/parents-child-disabilities/social-emotional-skills/developing-social-skills-relationships

It is highly recognized that students with learning disabilities are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem, negative self-image and difficulties with self-advocacy. Poor self-confidence and thinking lowly of oneself are also, as we’ve seen, indicators for the development of depression as well as social isolation. We have strategies for teaching students with learning disabilities, for helping them to deal with stress, anxiety and the possibility of childhood depression in our classrooms. We’ve learned about looking out for instances of bullying and we’ve even explored how to help students with LD make friends…


However, there are a few more things that we can teach our students, things we can provide opportunities for, that will help them grow as individuals who can look out for themselves and become fully contributing members of their communities once they leave our classrooms and schools.

What Teachers Can Do:
What Teachers Can Do:
- Realize that children, even with learning disabilities, are never to young to begin learning how to self-advocate. This will instill a sense of importance at a young age. This will give children the courage and confidence to stand up for themselves.
- Provide opportunities for students to make choices and decisions. With older students, you might help them think about the “pros and cons” and use graphic organizers. Break down the decision making process so that students can begin to understand the steps of good decision-making.
- Involve students in self-reflection and self-evaluation. This should be shared, then guided before students are expected to do it independently. For every “next step” identify two things that were done really well as well.
- Talk to students about their strengths and needs. Make observations like, “I notice that you were able to follow the instructions really well when I wrote the procedure on the board with numbers.”
- Discuss how students can use their strengths to help them with what they find more difficult.
- Help students to set realistic goals for themselves. Reflect on goals and celebrate their achievement.
- Encourage students to ask for the things that help them. Give them the language that they need in order to express themselves. For example, a student who can justify why they need to use headphones while they work might be better-received and respected in later education years…by his or her peers and teachers alike.
- Model how to think out loud and praise students when they express their thinking.

A Specific Challenge for Authentic Self-Advocacy Development
Promoting Self-Advocacy Through Participation in IEP Development:
- Students who have LD can contribute to the development of their own IEP.
- With the right training, guidance and teaching about the IEP beforehand, with coaching to build their self-awareness and advocacy skills, our students can surprise us very much.
- If we want to leave no child behind, we must let a child at risk of being left behind take the lead (Danneker and Bottege, 230)
- One of the greatest barriers for involving students in the IEP process can be teachers who do not believe students will understand their IEP or their IEP meeting (Danneker and Bottege, 230).
- Teaching students through 1:1 training and/or small group instruction, they can learn about their IEP goals and offer their own insights about their strengths and needs. Role-play can also prepare students to actually be active participants in their IEP meetings.

Works Cited and Further Reading
Alberta Learning Resources. (2002). “Key 7: Self-Advocacy.” Unlocking Potential: Key Components of Programming for Students with Learning Disabilities. http://education.alberta.ca/media/513297/unlock_8.pdf

CanLearn Society. (2013). “Self-Advocacy.” Take Ten Series. http://canlearnsociety.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/LC_Self-Advocacy_N2.pdf

Danneker, J. & Bottege, B. (2009). Benefits and barriers to elementary student-led individualized education programs.Remedial and Special Education 30(4), 225-233.

Kleinert, J. L. (2010). "I Can" and "I Did" -- Self-Advocacy for Young Students With Developmental Disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43(2), 16-26. http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.queensu.ca/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=b8835c67-c304-4433-9f20-ed9a5ce170de%40sessionmgr114&vid=2&hid=124




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