It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend:  Part III – Social Skills on the Homefront: Dealing with Parents, Siblings, and Other Strangers

   In Part I, I gave an overview of a book that, despite its 10-year anniversary, is still highly relevant.  Kids Need Love When They Deserve It Least: A Review of It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend, by Rick Lavoie.  As I concluded, “Social miscues become “teachable moments.”  Or, to quote, Mr. Lavoie, “Kids need love most when they deserve it least.”  This sentiment, as well as the use of the term friend in the title, reflect Mr. Lavoie’s deep compassion and understanding of children, seeing issues from the perspective of the child, for which he has earned fame and respect in his early PBS videos, How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City Workshop and When the Chips Are Down.”   In Part II, I covered how Mr. Lavoie explores why these children with learning disabilities and accompanying social skills deficits “do the things they do.”  

portrait of a young boy at school working on a laptop computer screen

portrait of a young boy at school working on a laptop computer screen

The social deficits of children with learning disabilities (LD) affect their families, teachers, and other people with whom they come in contact.

Enhancing Organizational Skills: Bringing Order and Structure to the Disorganized Child
     A lack of organization is a serious social skills deficit, one that affects the LD child’s interactions with all the important people with whom he or she comes in contact.  Books and organizational tools that work well for many people, Mr. Lavoie points out, are not effective with LD children.  Areas of concern include the following:

  • Material-spatial disorganization: difficulty keeping track of the very organizational tools needed
  • Temporal-spatial disorganization: trouble with time and sequence, along with any temporal (time) concepts, including planning.
  • Transitional disorganization, a hard time or reluctance to go from one activity to another.

Often, this disorganization manifests itself as a shortfall in executive functioning, including self-talk, emotional control, motivation, impulsivity, short-term memory and recall, and complex problem solving.  Parents and teachers need to present the child with external structure, with prompts on what he or she needs to do to start, execute, and complete a task.  Moreover, these children require a great deal of patience, as they become easily frustrated and overwhelmed or take what seems to most people more time than necessary to perform the task.  With patience, persistence, and reassurance, these children will master critical organizational skills.

Siblings and Other Strangers
     Siblings are often a major component of one’s social life; these relationships, however, are complex in all settings but become even more so when one person involved has social skills deficits related to learning disabilities.  These relationships then present their own challenges for everyone involved.  Mr. Lavoie urges family members to distinguish between behaviors one could classify as “LD,” a direct result of the sibling’s learning disability, and others as “CLK,” that conduct of a “crummy little kid.”  Differentiating between the two is difficult when a child’s disability is largely hidden.  Parents have the challenge of understanding the many feelings non-disabled siblings have.  Parents also need to provide siblings with information on their brother’s or sister’s disabilities to help them better understand and cope with these challenges.  Finally, they need parental support to distinguish between fairness and equality, the former connoting the child with the disability receive more attention.  Carrying out these suggestions, moreover, often involves trial and error – and ongoing communication.

     Parents can help their child improve his or her social skills by helping find friends, plan the event, and help the child be a good host.  At the end of the date, parents should do a “playdate postmortem,” evaluating what went well and what problems need to be addressed.  This procedure can be applied to overnight stays, receiving the gests of others, and visits from relatives.


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