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Research Trends: Social Information Processing and Emotional Understanding in Children With LD

An expert reviews new research on the social interactions of kids with learning disabilities.

By Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.

What's new in the world of research related to children with learning and attention difficulties? In this summary of current peer-reviewed research, Marshall Raskind, Ph.D., shares his expert perspective in practical terms for parents like you.

The social difficulties experienced by children with learning disabilities (LD) have been well documented. In fact, research indicates that as many as 75% of children with LD have social skills deficits (Kavale & Forness, 1996). Children with LD are often socially rejected by their peers, and have problems establishing and maintaining friendships. In turn, these difficulties may lead to feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, and even depression.

Authorities in the field of LD have explored a number of possible causes for these difficulties including, low academic standing, poor oral language skills, nonverbal communication deficits, concurrent psychological problems, attention/memory disorders, as well as cognitive deficits related to social problem solving. To date, there is no consensus regarding the exact causes of the social difficulties experienced by children with LD. In fact, due to the complex nature of social relations, and the many factors that affect them, it may be a long time before we have a clear understanding of why children with LD experience such difficulties. Nonetheless, researchers continue to study the reasons behind such problems, which can be more debilitating than the academic difficulties most commonly equated with LD.

Research Study Spotlight

In an effort to bring parents up-to-date on this important, but often neglected aspect of LD, I have chosen to share a research study recently published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities (January/February 2005), one of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field. (Articles submitted to such journals undergo a rigorous review process by leading researchers to ensure that each study meets the highest scientific standards.) This study recognizes the complexities of social interaction, and examines areas that have received limited research. Furthermore, the study exemplifies high quality research. As a personal aside, I must also admit that the social aspects of learning disabilities have always been of particular interest to me.

In this study, Nirit Bauminger, Hany Schorr Edelsztein, and Janice Morash of Bar Ilan University in Israel examined social information processing and complex emotional understanding capabilities in children with and without LD. Participants in the study consisted of 50 children with LD (ages 9.4 to 12.7; 35 boys, 15 girls) and 50 children without LD matched on grade, age, and gender.

Social information processing (cognitive processes underlying social interactions) involves a series of six steps (Crick & Dodge, 1994, Dodge, 1986). In any given social situation, these steps include:

  1. encoding social clues (paying attention to social cues, remembering key information)
  2. mentally representing and interpreting the cues (giving meaning to the cues)
  3. clarifying goals (selecting desired outcomes)
  4. searching for possible social responses (either from memory or formulation of new response possibilities)
  5. making a response decision (evaluating the probable outcomes of various responses and selecting an appropriate response) and
  6. acting out selected responses while monitoring their effects.

Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D., is a learning disability researcher. He is a frequent presenter at international LD conferences and is the author of numerous professional publications on learning disabilities. He is well-known for his research on assistive technology and longitudinal studies tracing LD across the life span.

Comments from readers

"I wonderful contribution to the based knowledge of parents and proffesionasl as well. Very well summarized and clearly understandable content. thanks, A parent and a teacher of children with LD"
"This article gave no concrete examples of how to help children overcome some of these difficulties"
"My advice for parents is this....invest early in your child's development to gain the best outcome possible (neuropsychologist). I speak from experience. My step daughter is 20 and has cognitive deficits that negatively impact her in social situations. Early intervention may have helped her form meaningful relationships throughout her teen years She is lonely, about 13 or 14 emotionally and seems doomed to make poor decisions in life. I am a step mother who helped raise her but in short had little imput into making sure she had access to the help she needed in life. She went through life without a label (help) which in some sense eliminated self imposed barriers but in another way impeded her ability to self advocate after she turned 18. We were told 2 years ago that she is capable of completing college (neuropsychologist) but there have been some situations that have threatened her ability to do this such as; seeing someone 9 years older (first relationship ever-against ou! r wishes), inability to manage everyday living tasks (eating regularly, managing her checking acct., taking her medicine!), and health issues that continue to affect her. If this sounds a bit scary to you I apologize but I hope that you will take my advice and put aside anything that hinders you so that your child will gain the best possible outcome going into adulthood. Advice we received from our Neuropsychologist: make daily living skills cards w/ times as a reminder, seek social skills training, and see a psychiatrist for a possible anxiety disorder. I love my daughter more than you can imagine and hope that she can overcome the enormous challenges that threaten her future. We are committed to providing the love and support she will need in the years to come in order that she achieve her goals and dreams. In case you wonder why college is the end all be all for her....she faces some unique medical challenges that require future surgeries (every six years); she must have! full time employment within a certain time period in order to! be eligible for medical benefits. Good luck to you all and remember others will never be as invested as you in your child's future so keep advocating for your child's needs, you are the key to his/her future success."