Box 113, Williamsport, PA 17701 Phone: 570-323-2050    Fax: 570-323-2051

Special Needs = Special Skills

Written by: Z Lovitt

Edited by: Daniel Lopez

Students with disabilities and special needs are an everyday part of the life of any school and school district.  How we focus on these students plays a large role in how successful they are in school, but more importantly, how successful they are once they have completed their schooling.

Social skills is one such area that educators should focus on as a way to help normalize the lives of students with disabilities as they are mainstreamed in academic and co-curricular activities.

Richard Lavoie, author of It’s So Much Work to be Your Friend, writes about the social needs of learning disabled students, the social difficulties that permeate their lives, as well as the ramifications of those unmet social needs.  He offers suggestions regarding how to identify underlying causes and how to institute approaches that will help students who experience these difficulties.

Lavoie posits that direct instruction and guidance in the area of social skills are critical to support students on their paths to school and life success.  He offers four areas that encompass home, school, and community situations:  the ability to join or enter a group, the ability to establish and maintain friendships, the ability to resolve conflicts, and the ability to “tune in” to social skills.  He looks at key behaviors that involve the handling of emotions and social challenges, the handling of peer situations, the handling of authority, and the handling of stress.

There are two areas, the author notes, that often confound our students — organizational skills and the ability to recognize the Hidden Curriculum of School.

“The Hidden Curriculum … consists of the unwritten, unspoken rules of school … its culture that includes shared norms, values, beliefs, traditions, rituals, and customs …In fact, success in the standard curriculum is often secondary to success in the Hidden Curriculum. “(p. 253-255).

Lavoie finds that not understanding and adhering to the Hidden Curriculum can be a primary factor in student failure.  “It is critically important that we teach the Hidden Curriculum so socially incompetent children with the same commitment and planning that we present the standard curriculum.” (p. 256).

Without direct social competence instruction, how many of our students will deal with what cumulatively become insurmountable problems?  How many special education referrals, dropouts, deviant behaviors, or personal hurts could be avoided by intervening early in the lives of students with “social disabilities?”

It is imperative that educators accept the challenge of responsibility for not just the scholarship of our youth but for that aspect of their lives that permeates their every waking moment — their lives as social beings.

The message contained in Lavoie’s work, although specifically directed toward learning disabled students, in fact applies to a broad range of students.  Every student is in one way or another learning disabled.  Every student has social needs.  Every student has the potential to be at risk.  Many students have compounded challenges that affect social functioning.  Educators need to intercede in this area of social functioning because it significantly affects school success, academic performance, the motivation to remain in a learning environment, and life in general.

Lavoie, R. (2005). It’s So Much Work to be Your Friend.  New York: Simon & Shuste