Help combat social exclusion for your young adult with autism and learning disabilities!
Imagine an intelligent, kind and funny 20 year-old man who struggles to make eye contact while talking to people. He also has a difficult time waiting for pauses in conversations before speaking again, which causes him to interrupt often. Sometimes he can be very focused on what he wants to talk about rather than listening and paying attention to others, so he can be misinterpreted as self-absorbed and uncaring. As a result, he has always had trouble making and keeping friends. Social exclusion has been a big problem in his life.
This is the description of a student at Transitions diagnosed with autism. His story will sound familiar to many young adults with learning differences who face similar social challenges.
Social challenges can hinder others from getting to know people with learning disabilities. Just like anyone else, people with learning disabilities need a support system and a sense of community to thrive. It is essential to find ways to encourage socialization and peer interaction that combat social exclusion, which can severely affect quality of life for people with learning disabilities.
Social Exclusion and Learning Disabilities
People with learning disabilities make up one of the most marginalized groups in Western society. As a result, many teens and young adults with learning disabilities experience social exclusion. This is due at least in part to the discrimination and prejudice they face from a society that does not understand them. The negative effects of social exclusion can have a significant impact throughout one’s life. Studies indicate that social exclusion in adolescence is linked to problems with adjustment in adulthood, which can manifest as mental health issues or even criminal activities.
How to Help Your Child
At Transitions, we offer a class from the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®), an evidence-based curriculum developed at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Behavior. This course was designed to help adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder develop conversational skills and make friends. Here are some concepts from the course that parents can use to help their child in those areas:
- Talk to his or her teacher and express your understanding of your child’s struggle with peer relationships and overall social exclusion. Discuss ways you are supporting your child’s socialization and ask for the teacher’s support in your efforts.
- Enhance your child’s self-esteem by demonstrating that you enjoy spending time with them. This is a way to boost his or her “social stock,” or social confidence. Also, use positive reinforcement and encourage him or her to “take risks” when it comes to socialization. Help them learn to find common interests with other people to make them less nervous, such as clothing, hobbies or classes they are both taking.
- Model social skills. Social exclusion in people with learning disabilities is often the result of a lack of social skills. Talk about various social skills with your child, such as initiating conversations, assertiveness vs. aggressiveness and social problem solving. It is also important to model healthy social interaction to your child.
- Create opportunities for your child to interact socially. Encourage him or her to participate in afterschool or extracurricular activities and organize outings with peers whenever possible. Suggest that they meet up with a friend or join a club.
- Do not shame or blame. Social exclusion is a difficult challenge to overcome. It is not your child’s fault, nor is it their preference to be socially excluded. Focus on encouraging and supporting them to overcome their isolation, rather than emphasizing the negatives of the situation.
Promoting a sense of acceptance and belonging for youth with learning disabilities can help decrease feelings of loneliness and social isolation. With adequate support, encouragement and training, youth with learning disabilities can make connections and develop meaningful relationships just as well as anyone else.
To find out more about Transitions programs near Albany, New York, including our social skills curriculum and specialty camps, by calling (518) 775-5384.
About the Author:
Jennifer Feagles, LMSW, is the director of Transitions and an instructor in Wellness and Social Skills. Jennifer is a wellness coach trained by the Mayo Clinic, a Personal Outcomes Measures interviewer certified through the Council on Quality and Leadership, and a certified instructor in the Health Matters program and the PEERS® social skills program. Her nearly 20 years of experience in working with people with varying disabilities equips her to help young people overcome their challenges and achieve their goals effectively.