This question was posed to me recently: Children with social skill deficits are capable of establishing peer relationships but have difficulty maintaining those relationships. Why is this?
This is a very big question and just as individual as the students we teach. There are many factors that contribute to lasting peer relationships, yet for exceptional students there can be added challenges because of social skills deficits. In her handbook for teachers Nancy Hutchinson (2014) discusses peer relationships established between people who view themselves as equals, where a sense of belonging and connectedness is formed. When considering peer relationships I thought of two factors that could impact peer relations; the first was due to a student’s social skill deficits and the second was a question of whether the difficulty in maintaining the relationship was just a natural process of growing and learning where one fits. For example, researchers have discussed trust as it forms between lasting peer relationships and how trust can lead to sharing, exchanging, and welcoming opinions (Hutchinson, 2014). I wonder though, what if peers cannot get to a level where trust can form a bond? Does this mean relationships are having difficulty, or is it maybe just that two specific people are not likely to be friends? In asking this, I am aware however, that this question is not just addressing friendship, but also general working peer relationships and the impact of social skill deficits on all peer relationships. With this is in mind I looked for articles on the topic and found research that discussed peer relationships and students with exceptionalities in emotional, behaviour, LDs and ADHD areas.
One article in particular shared valuable insight on ADHD students. The article discussed close friendships ADHD students can share with others and looked to understand these relationships in connection to common forms of peer rejection (Mikami, 2010). The close relationships an ADHD child had acted as a way to balance off the rejection they experienced in other peer relationship groups. I wondered; is the trust piece discussed by Hutchinson part of this? If trust is formed in a relationship, where otherwise a child is experiencing rejection, will this lead them to form an even greater bond with their trusted friend? Mikami (2010) suggestions that students form relationships based on their similarities and that students with ADHD may have less steady, or a lower quality of friendships, when compared to others. She also said that ADHD youth are more likely to be friends with another ADHD peer, rather than someone without ADHD. Although there is little research on the effects of some deficits on relationships Mikami (2010) points to three areas that could lead to a break down in relationships because of an ADHD youth’s deficits; they were reading the arousal/interest levels of others, planning and organization, working memory, and the ability to understand different perspectives (Mikami, 2010). These deficits can lead to a breakdown in relationships that have been formed, and if a bond based on similarities has not been fully established, or as I believe trust formed, the relationship may not last. Finally, Mikami (2010) proposes that ADHD students may need added strategies to support them in forming fitting and positive friendships, and that even having one good friendship can go a long way in balancing out the challenges of maintaining other peer relationships.
Thinking back to the original question, I believe that students with social skills deficits are challenged to maintain peer relationships for varied reasons and require support in learning how to find peers that are their equals and where a trusting bond can be formed. They need guidance and to be taught the social cues they may be missing, and until they have a trusted friend relationship to share their experiences with they need a person (parent or educator) who can be that for them.
Hutchinson, N. L. (2014). Inclusion of exceptional learners in Canadian schools: a practical handbook for teachers. (4th ed.). Toronto: Pearson.
Mikami, A. Y. (2010). The Importance of Friendship for Youth with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 13, 2, 181-198. doi: 10.1007/s10567-010-0067-y
*Mikami’s article can also be retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921569/
Ms. Kolshuk's Blog
Welcome to my blog where I post about my teaching practice, ideas, findings and discuss topics of an educational nature. Please feel free to comment and/or email with any topic suggestions.