Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

We talk a lot about the shidduch crisis and a friendship crisis. We talk about how children and adults don’t talk to each other anymore. These are real issues that I see in my office on a daily basis. Part of what contributes to these crises is that many people aren’t communicating well with one another – even when they are trying to! To that end, I have asked noted educator and lecturer Michelle Garcia Winner to come give a workshop to our community next year about her revolutionary program to help people gain and develop social skills. I’ve also devoted this column to answering questions about the program and disabilities that affect social skills.

 

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Q: What is “social thinking”? Why do we need it?

A: Social Thinking is a social skills program developed by Michelle Garcia Winner. The program is intended for people with social learning disabilities (Aspergers, autism, ADHD, Non-verbal Learning Disorder, Social Phobia, Social Anxiety, and many others). Its main focus is on teaching people to think about how others perceive them.

The ability to think socially is required prior to the production of social skills. As children grow, successful social thinkers are able to consider the points of view, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, prior knowledge and intentions of others (this is often called perspective-taking). Social thinking occurs everywhere – when we talk, share space, walk down the street, even when we read a novel and relate to our pets. It is an intelligence that integrates information across home, work and community settings.

Because some people have trouble with social thinking, Winner created a systematized program to help people learn to think socially. Her workshop, entitled “Social Thinking Across School and Home,” helps develop strategies that bolster communication and friendships.

 

Q: I’ve heard of many of the disorders above, but what is Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)? Do you have any suggestions for help? Is there anything teachers can do in order to facilitate learning?

A: Many people have never heard of Nonverbal Learning Disorders (NVLD), but in reality, they are somewhat prevalent in our community. Diane Connell, of Scholastic, an educational company, explains that students with NVLD have a unique set of academic strengths and weaknesses. Unlike most other students identified as learning disabled, these students can start their academic career on a gifted track. They are wonderful readers, can articulate their thoughts clearly, and can memorize, categorize, and recall numerous facts. Teachers have realized that children with NVLD are very different from other children with LD.

For starters, in elementary school, children with NVLD are adept at reading and articulating their thoughts. This often disguises the learning disability. However, there are four major areas in which NVLD manifests itself:

            Gross motor development. Children with NVLD are slow to walk, ride a bicycle, and play ball. Sometimes they seem clumsy because they tend to walk into objects and people.

            Visual-motor deficits. Those diagnosed with NVLD have trouble processing and remembering images, which can translate into difficulty remembering numbers, letter, and geometric forms. The lack of eye-hand coordination also makes using utensils, tying shoelaces, drawing, writing, and cutting particularly hard.

            Nonverbal communication and maintaining friendships. Because so much of communication is conveyed verbally, children with neurological deficits in the right hemisphere (like those with NVLD) have trouble reading nonverbal cues. This can lead to misunderstandings with their peers and sometimes can result in difficulty maintaining friendships.

            Emotional problems. If NVLD is misunderstood, children with NVLD can develop more serious emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, and phobias – often compounded by the fact that children with NVLD desperately want to perform the way their parents and teachers would like them to, but simply do not know how to.

 

Considering the above deficits, here are some of the ways that you can help someone overcome NVLD:

            Positive reinforcement. Children with NVLD experience disappointment and frustration when those around them expect more than they can actually do. Therefore, learn about your child’s limitations. Then, let him know that you are proud of him when he extends himself past his comfort zone. He might not do something perfectly, but applaud his effort.

            Special education consultant. Modifications for writing and written assignments are often necessary for students with NVLD. To that end, someone involved in special education can help work out your son’s individual requirements.

            Language or social skills specialist. Because tone of voice and nonverbal communication is so essential to social interactions, having your son work with a language or social skills specialist in order to learn those important skills will greatly improve his social IQ.

            Occupational therapist. Children with NVLD can also benefit from occupational therapists who can assist them with visual motor coordination. This will help not only with writing, but with other physical activities like riding a bike or tying shoelaces.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.