Building social competence in children with nonverbal learning disabilities: A preliminary study

Catherine Carney Brodeur (2006)

Children with nonverbal learning disabilities (NLD) have deficits in tactile perception, psychomotor coordination, visual-spatial processes, and social learning (Rourke, 1989a). These deficits have been related to disrupted functioning of the neurological pathways of the right hemisphere (Rourke, 1989a). Social learning that remains an area of challenge for children with NLD was the present study's primary interest. The term "social pragmatics" refers to the interpersonal communication skills necessary for effective functioning within the social world. The study sought to assess the effects of a method of social pragmatics instruction on children with NLD. Using a non-experimental single-case research design that included assessments of adaptive skills and emotional functioning, the study evaluated a student in a class that teaches social pragmatics. This class was held in a school for children with learning disabilities. Participants were an identified 15-year-old female NLD student participating in the class, a male teacher, and the mother of the participant. Measures of both mental health and adaptive skills were administered to determine if an NLD student's psychological presentations were affected by learning social skills. Because a course in social pragmatics was studied, particular interest was paid to adaptive skills such as leadership, social skills, and adaptability. Outcome measures consisted of the Behavioral Assessment System for Children II (BASC II, Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004) with its three respondent report forms (child, teacher, and parent), as well as open-ended interview questions designed by the author for the teacher, parent, and child. For the parent and teacher self-reports, results on the BASC II showed decreases in hyperactivity, depression, withdrawal, and attention problems, as well as increases in social skills, leadership, and adaptability. Interviews with the parent and teacher indicated the student had learned better communication and assertiveness skills. In the student interview, the student reported greater self-confidence. According to the parent, further development of social pragmatics curricula, should include specific instruction in forming and maintaining friendships, because a deficit in this interpersonal area poses particular difficulties in NLD children. In the parent's interview, this is particularly true with regard to initiating contact and staying in touch with friends over time. The teacher interview indicated that classes for younger children in basic social skills like maintaining eye contact, stating one's feelings, and refraining from interrupting would be helpful, while more advanced topics like conflict resolution could be targeted for middle and high school children.