Students with LDs typically experience repeated failure. In school, they may work incredibly hard but the outcome may not reflect their effort. Over time, it can be more difficult for a student to keep trying and often, we see behaviours identified as ‘non-compliant’ or ‘oppositional,’ yet those behaviours may reflect an understandable coping strategy of avoidance or hopelessness.
Academic stressors can also lead to a lower sense of mastery and fewer opportunities to feel competent at something or to achieve success. Students with LDs may feel like they are not meeting others’ expectations or their own expectations, like they are letting down their caregivers and teachers, or like they are not working hard enough even when they are trying very hard. This can lead to the student experiencing negative feelings, including worry, anger, frustration, and sadness. If a student is constantly experiencing academic stressors, we may see patterns of experiential avoidance, which will be explained in the next section of the module.
Examples of everyday academic stressors for students with LDs may include:
- keeping up with classmates or peers
- keeping track of conversations during group work
- taking notes while listening at the same time
- understanding multiple instructions
- shifting focus and transitioning from one subject or task to another
- reading quickly and accurately
- understanding what is read
- expressing ideas orally or in writing
- having to think of an answer to a question on the spot
- printing and handwriting
- spelling and grammar
- speaking in front of the class
- gym class (e.g., participating in activities requiring hand-eye coordination or keeping up with what is happening during sports)
- assignments and homework
It is important to know your students in order to understand what might cause them stress. Both the student profile and the Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be valuable sources of information for understanding specific areas of difficulty, which often cause stress. Additionally, ensure ongoing classroom observations are documented and pay attention to the activities that provoke signs of stress. Learn which situations they can handle, and which ones require additional support. Be sure to provide students with opportunities to participate in activities that they find meaningful and through which they can bolster their sense of competence and confidence.
For more information on student profiles, see pages 42-50 of Learning For All.
Stress Due to Change & Transitions
Changes and transitions occur throughout an individual’s life, from changing subjects to moving to a new school. At school, transitions happen every day (from class to class), every year (from grade to grade), and every few years (from school to school).
There are many reasons for why transitions might be more difficult for students with LDs. It may be difficult for students with LDs to apply or to generalize what they learned and mastered in one environment to a new environment. Often students with LDs are very concrete and rigid in their thinking and behaviour, which can impede their ability to adapt their skills to fit a new environment.
The student may have finally become comfortable with the social and physical environment after much discomfort, energy, and time. However, after transitioning to a new environment, he or she must once again spend a great deal of time and effort to gain a level of comfort.
To complicate matters, when leaving a familiar environment the student may worry about not being able to feel comfortable, which can make new environments feel intimidating and can heighten existing feelings of anxiety. Past negative social experiences, such as being teased, bullied or ignored, can result in the student expecting to have painful experiences in the new environment.
For more information about supporting students during transitions, visit the following resources:
Engaging in meaningful social relationships plays an important role in fostering well-being across the lifespan. Without supportive social relationships, children are more likely to experience low self-esteem [i], loneliness [ii], social rejection [iii], and bullying and peer victimization [iv], and are at greater risk for school failure [v].
Social competence refers to the ability to successfully and independently engage in social interactions, to establish and maintain relationships with others, and to have one’s needs and desires met across diverse contexts [vi]. Social competence involves using a complex set of skills, at the right time and in the right context.
The skills involved in social competence include [vii]:
- age-appropriate social skills
- regulation of behaviours and emotions
- perspective taking abilities
- understanding the social environment (what is expected)
For students with LDs, social competence may be a difficult skill to master. The relationship between LDs and difficulties with social competence may, in part, reflect the nature of the individual’s information processing challenges [viii]. For example, if we have trouble interpreting abstract language and words with multiple meanings, we might miss sarcasm or struggle to figure out if the communication is intended to flirt or to mock. Memory problems can get in the way of keeping track of social information. Students with executive functioning difficulties may get stuck in social problem solving or have trouble letting go of ideas. This can affect the ability to manage conflict with peers or to negotiate group projects at school. Many of the cognitive processes affect our ability to follow and participate in a group conversation. For students with slow processing, they may think of a great idea to contribute to the conversation but it is three topics too late.
Although not all students with LDs will experience social difficulties, it is estimated that up to 75% of children and youth with LDs face challenges with social relationships [ix]. The nature of the social skills deficit may vary, depending on the nature of the LD and/or the presence of mental health issues.
Difficulties may include:
- Reading facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and other non-verbal social cues
- Understanding sarcasm and/or humor
- Engaging in effective social problem solving
- Tracking and keeping up with group conversations at recess or during group work in class
- Recalling information about social situations
Bullying is a form of repeated and aggressive behaviours directed towards an individual (or individuals), which is intended to cause fear, distress and/or harm [x]. Bullying involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the bully and those who are bullied [xi].
Students with LDs are at an increased risk for experiencing bullying. The following characteristics may spotlight students with LDs as different; they may be less accepted by their peers and seen as easy targets [xii].
- Frequently requiring additional assistance from teachers or peers
- Being separated from classmates during certain classes
- Difficulties developing and maintaining relationships (e.g., understanding verbal and non-verbal social cues)
- Difficulties managing behaviours and emotions in the school setting (e.g., overly loud, hyperactive, disruptive, and/or talkative)
Children and youth are creating and sharing information through many forms of social media using their phones, tablets, and computers. As educators, navigating the always-changing landscape of social media to keep students safe online can be challenging. Instead of learning about all of the different forms of social media (which would be very difficult), you can learn about what forms of social media your students are using and how they are being used.
Social media may offer students with LDs positive opportunities to interact with their friends in an online setting, while enhancing their sense of self and feelings of social connectedness and belonging. However, virtual friends do NOT replace face-to-face opportunities for socialization with family and friends [xiii]. Although social media is important for maintaining existing friendships it is just as important to encourage face-to-face socialization to decrease feelings of loneliness [xiv].
There are also potential risks to using social media sites. Cyberbullying is the most common online risk. Cyber-bullying is when someone uses electronic and/or communication technologies (e.g., cell phones, computers, tablets, social media sites, text messaging) to harass and intimidate others.
Examples of cyberbullying can include:
- sending mean or threatening messages
- spreading rumours
- sharing private information
- posting embarrassing photos
- creating websites or profiles to make fun of others
Educators play an important role in teaching students how to respond to online bullying. Key points to emphasize with students include:
- Don’t fight back. If you decide to report it later, fighting back may make it look like it was just an argument instead of bullying.
- Save the evidence. Save the texts, instant messages, videos or images.
- Talk to someone you trust about it. Talk to a caregiver, educator or trusted adult.
- Report it. Report the incident to the site where it is happening or to the police if it is affecting your ability to function or if you feel scared.
For more information on social media, check out the following resources:
[i] Sideridis, 2007
[ii] ValÅs, 1999
[iii] Bryan, Burstein & Ergul, 2004
[iv] Mishna, 2003
[v] Parker & Asher, 1987
[vi] Stichter, O’Connor, Herzog, Lierheimer and McGhee, 2012
[vii] Baumeister, Storch & Geffken 2008; Schechtman & Katz, 2007
[viii] Milligan, Phillips & Morgan, 2015
[ix] Kavale & Forness, 1996
[x] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2012
[xi] Mishna, 2003
[xii] Mishna, 2003
[xiii] Sharabi & Margalit, 2011
[xiv] Sharabi & Margalit, 2011