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Itís So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success

reviewed by Rita Coombs-Richardson - April 12, 2007

coverTitle: Itís So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success
Author(s): Richard Lavoie
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York
ISBN: 0743254651, Pages: 448, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

Children with special needs frequently display deficits in social skills. These children, especially those with learning disabilities and those diagnosed as having poor attention skills, require specific instruction in pro-social skills. Students with disabilities have been included in general education classrooms for many years; however, research indicates that close friendships with their non-disabled peers are still wanting (Saenz, 2003). The lack of social competence can easily result in peer rejection and an inability to make friends. For some children, learning to make friends requires adult guidance involving coaching, modeling, and teaching self-regulation skills (Coombs-Richardson, 2000). Taylor and colleagues (2002) suggest that adults should intervene, manipulate the environment, and directly teach social skills to promote friendships and avoid social rejection of children with disabilities. Peer rejection is often connected with poor school performance, poor self-esteem, aggression, passivity and social awkwardness, hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive behaviors (Crick & Nelson, 2002). Rejected children have few friends and some have none at all. In adolescence, peer rejection in childhood and association with antisocial peers are linked with school drop-out and delinquency. Numerous studies clearly document the weak and inconsistent social competencies of adolescents with histories of delinquent behaviors. These behaviors are both the cause and consequence of a lack of social skills (Berk, 2007).

Richard Lavoie’s book It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend offers practical strategies to help children with learning disabilities ages six through seventeen. The author focuses on positive interventions rather than punishment. This is a crucial component in teaching pro-social skills because children’s disruptive behaviors easily produce negative adult reactions. In addition to addressing non-compliant and unnerving behaviors, Lavoie provides practical strategies to promote positive self-esteem and ways to counteract bullying and harassment. He includes methods and instructions for helping the child with learning disabilities to overcome shyness and low self-esteem, and how to use appropriate body language to convey emotion. In Chapter 6, “Enhancing Organizational Skills,” the strategies presented for bringing order and structure to the disorganized child can be applied with all children. However, his comment on untimed testing as an accommodation lacks credibility. Lavoie maintains that this technique has “deleterious effect on struggling students” (p.163), but he does not back his position with research. Actually, the research on extended time as a testing accommodation is still inconclusive (Elliot & Marquart, 2004). However, in a survey Marquart (2000) administered to students and their parents and teachers, most students reported feeling more comfortable, more motivated, and less frustrated under the extended-time condition. They thought they performed better, reported the test seemed easier, and preferred taking the test under the extended-time condition.

Children with paralinguistic difficulties often appear stiff and wooden because they fail to use their body language when they talk. These children stand out socially and attract negative reactions from their peers. They are ridiculed and teased for their inability to understand tones and nuances of non-verbal communication. In Chapter 4, “Paralinguistics: Words Carry the Message, Body Language Carries the Emotion,” the author offers practical suggestions to improve eye contact, voice tone, body language, and proxemics. In exploring gestures and postures adapted in various cultures, Lavoie notes that “extending the middle finger to a person is a significant insult” (p. 81), but then adds that the same gesture in Middle Eastern cultures is an expression of affection and good luck. Though this may be the case, based upon my own experience growing up in the Middle East, extending the middle finger can, in fact, be as insulting.

Lavoie offers useful suggestions for parents of students with learning disabilities in Chapter 7, “Siblings and Other Strangers. Raising a family is not an easy task, especially when the family includes a child with a disability. Parents are expected to manage their children’s diverse physical and emotional needs. Lavoie examines relationships and reactions as well as the pressures parents encounter in the family unit. To be fair, parents must treat their children differently, but at the same time, they must give each child identical amounts of “energy, time, and resources” (p. 181). Nevertheless, they must consider additional social arrangements, such as playdates, in order to encourage friendships between a child with a disability and his peers. Through such arrangements, parents can teach friendship skills such as sharing and showing loyalty to friends. An important strategy, which Lavoie terms “playdate postmortem,” is the discussion which follows a friendly “date.” It involves both the parent and the child reflecting on observed behaviors and reinforcing or developing adjustment for future playdates.

Characteristics of students with learning disabilities and attention disorders include impulsivity and failure to consider the consequences of their behaviors. Lavoie explains that most of their social skills errors are unintentional. Punishing such a child is unfair, inappropriate and ineffective. Punishment is counterproductive and increases hostility toward the punisher. The child may develop a set of inappropriate behaviors, such as lying, cheating, or blaming others, in order to avoid punishment. Lavoie warns not to expect punishment to have a meaningful or lasting impact upon a child's social skill deficits. Instead of punishment, parents should use a reinforcer such as the Premack principle or Grandma’s law, “You may have dessert, if and when you eat your vegetables.” While both positive and negative reinforcers increase behaviors, punishment may decrease a behavior temporarily but does not teach an appropriate behavior.

Lavoie states that “traditional approaches to social skill remediation are not effective” (p. xxiii). He claims that strategies such as role-playing, demonstration, video-taping, lectures, and discussion seldom have a positive impact on the development of children’s social competence. However, studies on Direct Instruction (DI), which includes many of the above strategies, indicate positive effects on academic as well as affective behaviors and social skills such as self esteem/concept, attitudes toward self and school, attribution of success or failure to self or outside, sense of responsibility and high school success (Allgozine & Ysseldyke, 2006). Direct instruction is not just lecturing, but rather it includes students’ participation in selected social skills topics. Role-playing is a particularly valuable strategy for teaching various social interactions that children would typically encounter. During the role-play scenarios, the child can be taught how to initiate a conversation, respond to questions and compliments, or to assertively defend a position. Social skills are primarily learned through observation, modeling, coaching, social problem solving, rehearsal, feedback, and reinforcement-based strategies (Coombs-Richardson & Meisgeier, 2000). Videotaped self-modeling (VSM) is one means of instruction that allows teachers and parents to use media that promote skill acquisition through self-evaluation. Parents or teachers can videotape a rehearsed scenario, view the tape with the child and ask for feedback.

It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend is a functional guide for parents of children with special needs. The introduction is particularly useful and involves a list of keys to analyze and understand children’s behaviors and teach self-management skills. Lavoie also provides a social skills assessment and a quick list of “do’s” and “don’ts” strategies for parents. In spite of a lack of research, many of his proposed strategies such as reinforcement and self-regulation have been documented to be effective measures to teach social skills (Gresham, Sugai, & Horner 2001). An important component of this book is the practical recommendations for helping students with learning disabilities.


Allgozine, B., & Ysseldyke, J. (2006). Effective instruction for students with special needs: A practical guide for every teacher. New York: Corwin Press.

Berk, L. (2007). Development through the lifespan. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Coombs-Richardson, R. (2000). Teaching social and emotional competence. The Journal of Children and Schools, 22(4), 246-251.

Coombs-Richardson, R., & Meisgeier, C. (2001). Connecting with others: Teaching social and emotional competence. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Crick, N., & Nelson, D. (2002). Relational and physical victimization within friendships. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 30, 599-607.

Elliot, S., & Marquart, A. (2004, March). Extended time as a testing accommodation: Its effects and perceived consequences. Exceptional Children. Retrieved December 18, 2006, from http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-20702844_ITM

Gresham, F., Sugai, G., & Horner, R. (2001). Interpreting outcomes of social skills training for students with high-incidence disabilities. Exceptional Children, 67(3), 331-344.

Marquart, A. (2000, July). The use of extended time as an accommodation on a standardized mathematics test: An investigation of effects on scores and perceived consequences for students of various skill levels. Dissertation Abstracts International, 56, 0910.

Saenz, C. (2003). Friendships of students with disabilities. Dissertations/theses M.Ed. (040). Northeastern Illinois University (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED479982).

Taylor, A. Sean, Peterson, C. A., McMurray-Schwartz, P., & Guillou, T. (2002). Social skills interventions: Not just for students with special needs. Young Exceptional Children, 5(4), 19-26.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 12, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14195, Date Accessed: 10/25/2021 12:07:33 AM

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About the Author
  • Rita Coombs-Richardson
    University of St. Thomas
    E-mail Author
    RITA COOMBS-RICHARDSON is the author of four volumes of a social skills curriculum for students in K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12 Connecting with Others: Lessons for Teaching Social and Emotional Competence published by Research Press. Additionally, she is the co-author of a behavior management book with Charles Meisgeier titled Discipline Options: Establishing a Positive Climate, Christopher Gordon Publishers. Dr. Coombs-Richardson was recently a member of the faculty in special education at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. She was granted full Professorship at Southeastern Louisiana University. She is presently a faculty member at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.
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