Developing Social Skills in Children with executive function deficits or ADHD




We all want our children to be able to make their way comfortably in the world. To do this they need to be able to relate to others and to behave acceptably in social situations.

Basically, it means using accepted communication protocols to relate to others socially.

Each society develops its own rules about what is acceptable, and what is not. It also seems that we are “hard wired” to behave in certain ways that make our communication more effective. We are born with basic skills to help us interact with others.

There is a lot more to communication than just words. Effective social skills make the most of all our other communication skills.

In our society, social skills include playing games, resolving conflicts, apologizing, negotiating, working with others, developing friendships and coping with the poor behaviour of other people.

And we expect even very small children to be able to use these skills to some extent.

Why do so many children have difficulty with social skills?

There are several main reasons why some children have difficulties in learning these particular skills, and this can include children who are bright and intelligent.

Children with executive function deficits or ADHD, for example, have difficulties with developing the skills that require the frontal lobe part of the brain to be efficient. This includes some aspects of social skills. They may not even recognize social problems when they occur. Some children have difficulty in understanding the perspective of other people, and in seeing that other people can have a different perspective to their own.

Other children may not have the language skills to negotiate or resolve difficulties. They may feel that they are not being listened to. There may be an underlying difficulty with language development that results in poor social skills.

In some instances, poor social behaviour may have been modeled or reinforced, so children imitate what they have seen or been rewarded for. This is not necessarily the case, however. As a Speech Pathologist I have seen many children from families where high level social skills have been modeled, taught and expected – but a child has difficulty understanding or using them.

Why do children need well-developed social skills?

Obviously, behaviour needs to be acceptable to society. And children need to be able to get along at school and in other groups so that they can to enjoy the benefits and advantages that communities provide (like learning opportunities and leisure activities).

Acceptance by others and the ability to make and maintain friendships is crucial to a child’s development. Self-acceptance and self-confidence follow. Good social skills help development of their language also, as children open up practice opportunities in conversation and play. Listening and problem-solving skills are also enhanced.

And if a child learns to use good social skills they will be better able to avoid anti-social behaviour and all its negative outcomes, and to cope better with the inappropriate or hurtful behaviour of their peers that happens from time to time. They are more likely to be able to avoid aggression, withdrawal and frustration. Children with good social skills are more likely to seek attention appropriately and less likely to use inappropriate methods of getting attention.

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