Social Skills for Disabilities

Social Skills for Disabilities

Since graduation passed for my son, I thought back to the day when my brother, who is now 45 years old, graduated from his class.  The day was one of great celebration because he was born when society didn't know the potential of those with Down syndrome.  Children were often put in institutions.  As I reflect back, I was a big sister who was a naive and oblivious to society's perspective of culture back then.  Years later, I had have many conversations with people who informed me of the devastation and shame that went with having a child with a disability.  Often, parents would be apologetic about a child and say the child wasn't right.  However, parents had a choice how to respond to having a child with a disability.  

When I was out in the teaching profession, I attended my brother's graduation.  By this time in my life, I understood the significance of such achievement and accomplishment for him.  The teachers and staff would always remark that my brother's greatest strength was his social skills.  My parents worked hard to make sure he was well-mannered and respectful.  I believe it is a natural thing to make sure any child learns social skills and not acceptable to make excuses for lack of social skills.  I am not saying that it isn't work, and that all children achieve the same level of skill, but it is worth the efforts to teach again and again how to conduct oneself appropriately.  I don't mean there will never be times where a child/young person will have to be reminded or prompted to act appropriately.  I am only saying it's best not to use the disability as a reason for any lack of the skills. 

Some of the skills that should be taught are table manners.  Neatness, politeness, and self-care with the napkin are so necessary for children to learn.  I know when my son started kindergarten, the staff took time at the beginning of the year to be at lunch with the children because many of them were lacking table manners at school lunch time.  The teachers and assistants took time to work on what is acceptable behavior with manners and conduct during lunch.  Many of the boys and girls needed instruction. 

Another skill that should become automatic at a young age is hand washing.  This is a cleanliness skill, but it also fits into social skills.  So many viruses and infections can spread if a person doesn't wash his/her hands, especially after going to the bathroom.  For some reason, this is a problem with adults too.  It is uncomfortable to address, but hand washing needs to be taught at a young age so it is automatic to remember and do.  It is a health hazard not to wash hands.  I have witnessed children who don't wash their hands and have kept hand sanitizer with me.  The schools are often taking time to teach students to do this because so many don't take time to do it.  

All students need to learn to greet one another respectfully and use good manners when interacting with peers, adults, and family.  Speaking politely and using appropriately language with our social contacts is important. 

I have just named a few skills to teach our children-all of our children.  But, no child should be excluded or excused for not obtaining these skills.  There may be a child who has a physical problem that is unable to eat neatly.  That is a valid concern.  But, perhaps there are other areas where the child can exhibit good social skills. As adults, teachers, and mentors, we just need to teach our young people how to be socially appropriate.  I know with the excessive use of technology, I have often heard the younger generation doesn't have the social skills they need.  Social skills are learned and must be practiced in order to be refined and polished; the skills can develop.  

My opinion is my own, but don't give up on your children, students, grandchildren, etc. Hang in there and be the influence the children in your life need.  Take the time to model and explain what is appropriate before complaining about lack of manners.  Children learn by example, modeling, and practice.  

Just food for thought for the evening.  Thanks for reading. 



  1. Thank you Rhoda for writing.

    Yesterday for the first time in 4 years I used soap instead of hand sanitiser [we have our own mixes]. Yes, washing hands before eating and touching anything and anyone is important.

    I will "hang in there and be the influence". or "an" influence.

    Taking that time really is important.

    I might send a Jean Mercer post about attachment as a spandrel after toddlerhood and how and why it stuck around.

    Sociality can give you different choices and more choices than you might without it.

    Last Sunday I read the Eisen report. I observed that the 11 children had strengths in their social skills, like the child who couldn't eat neatly. I observed also that the children used their social skills well in a situation of deprivation and adversity that would cow so many of us with advantages and privileges.

    The people in the report would be rough contemporaries of your brother:

    "To achieve a capacity for social functioning a child would
    need to be able to leala sufficient of the behaviour of a community or social group for him to be able to function within it, and to be
    able to adapt his own behaviour in relationship to other people.
    The capacity to learn social skills and acquire social knowledgl should be able to be tested, despite the constraints of physical, experiential and other handicaps that may exist in these children.
    In some ways this may also be a test of the capacity of others to communicate these skills to the Children." - Eisen et al [1980]

    "[...]The community also benefits from the attachment spandrel for several reasons. One is that the social rules learned in the early attachment relationship help young adults care for their own children effectively and enlist other community members to help in this task when needed. In addition, the community survives and thrives better when social interactions among members are orderly and constructive, when conflicts and aggressive impulses are modulated by attachment-influenced social rules. For just one more, community values and beliefs are more easily shared and passed on in the context of existing close relationships where they are modeled and implied, than if they had to be taught through direct instruction.[...]" - Jean Mercer [2017]


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