Understanding social emotional learning needs for children and youth with special needs
As with any child, a child with special needs develops social competence and emotional regulation over time. These skills assist the child or youth to have satisfying relationships with family, peers and members of the community. These skills contribute to success at school, ability to engage in community activities and eventually, the capability to support oneself and to live as independently as possible.
Neurodevelopmental conditions include diagnosis such as attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disability, communication disorders, developmental coordination disorder, autism, down syndrome, and specific learning disabilities. Many children with neurodevelopmental conditions experience dual diagnosis that might include giftedness, literacy-related learning disabilities, and mental health challenges. Associated medical or genetic conditions as well as environmental factors such as premature birth or prenatal alcohol or drug exposure can also contribute to delays in social emotional development. Children and youth with an acquired brain injury, complex developmental trauma or chronic stress may experience temporary or permanent interruption in social emotional development.
Acquiring social emotional competencies take time and can be especially difficult for children and youth with special needs. Engaging socially requires the brain to process similarities and differences, to understand and act on intentions, to recognize social cues, to remember previous social experiences and to make quick decisions about how to act in specific situations. Children born with brain differences often have particular challenges with these skills. They may have difficulty reading facial expressions which can impede their ability to distinguish emotions in others. Some have problems recognizing social cues so miss subtle forms of communication between people. Some children have trouble identifying how they feel when experiencing intense emotions which can affect their capacity to self-regulate. Some children might be reluctant to ask for help when they need it which could affect their capacity to cope with challenging situations. When a child has a “brain-based” or neurodevelopmental condition parents often notice delays in social emotional development early in a child’s life. In addition, a child’s skills might vary day-to-day in such areas as memory, motor planning, information and sensory processing, the use of language, the ability to plan and solve problems and the capability to think abstractly.