Language and Self-Regulation Deficits Affect Social Skill Development
Children with language disorders often exhibit behavior-related deficits that require social skill instruction. Reticence and social withdrawal affect performance in the classroom and peer relationships (Brinton, Fujiki, Montague, & Hanton., 2000; Fujiki, Brinton, Isaacson, & Summers, 2001). Aggressive, disruptive, or socially inappropriate behavior can be related to children's inability to verbally express feelings and needs (Johnston & Reichle, 1993). Consequences of social skill deficits often include peer rejection, which can further hinder school achievement (Asher & Gazelle, 1999; Dodge & Coie, 1987; Fujiki, Brinton, Hart, & Fitzgerald, 1999; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998).
Children with language learning impairments also frequently exhibit impairments in self-regulation, including emotion regulation and executive functions (Fujiki, Brinton, & Clarke, 2002; Westby & Cutler, 1994). Executive functions regulate deliberate, nonautomatic, nonroutine behavior and are the cognitive processes required to carry out social problem solving. They include processes such as setting goals, planning and organizing behavior, monitoring and evaluating performance, revising a plan, solving problems, and regulating behavior.
The relationship between language and self-regulation deficits is complex and interactive (Hart, Fujiki, Brinton, & Hart, 2004). Social skill instruction needs to take both domains into account, providing instruction in both language and self-management skills.
Interactions Involve Social Problem Solving
Developmental psychologists have proposed models of social problem solving to describe the cognitive processes involved in social interactions (Dodge, 1991; Rubin & Rose-Krasnor, 1992). Social problem solving involves a rapid, multistep thought process that follows these steps:
- Identify the goal
- Generate options
- Evaluate the options
- Select the strategy likely to be successful
- Implement the strategy
- Evaluate the outcome and store information
- Adjust an unsuccessful strategy for another attempt
- Store information for future use
While the steps follow this sequence, an individual may restart the sequence at any point based on feedback received from the situation.
Social problem-solving abilities develop as a function of children's developing cognitive abilities (including language and self-regulation) and social experiences. Repeated experience allows children to develop automatic scripts that carry them through a variety of situations without the need to consciously process information. This automaticity must be balanced with the flexibility to adjust to new situations. Table 1 lists the steps and task requirements of social problem solving described by Dodge (1991) and Rubin & Rose-Krasnor (1992), along with some of the cognitive demands and potential intervention targets of each step. It is clear that individuals with language and/or self-regulation deficits can experience challenges at many steps of the social problem-solving process.