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