When I was coming up in this field as a young psychologist, I got my first job at the Hill Top Preparatory School, a renowned private school in the Philadelphia suburbs specializing in adolescents with learning disabilities.

Different than reading any chapter in a textbook, the kids taught me so much. One of the things that I have never forgotten was how much a learning disability impacted on social performance. We were also taught this lesson very clearly by the then Director of the School, Dr. Elissa Fisher.

Not judging consequences, blurting out unfiltered comments, acting impulsively, to name a few traits of those with learning disabilities, impacts greatly on how you get along with others. Dr. Fisher used to caution us – “Remember, if you have a 15 year old in front of you, think of them as being emotionally and socially much younger.”

Years later research on ADHD and LD validated this wisdom, by noting approximately a quarter to a third should be taken off a child’s chronological age in order to better understand the child’s emotional maturity.

A book that always stayed with me from that era was the one with the perfect title, “No One to Play With: The Social Side of Learning Disabilities,” by Betty Osman, which has been recently revised (amzn.to/g1OvUd).  Even though we have learned a lot since the mid-1980s when the book was published, everything that she said in the book is as relevant today as it was then.

Sadly, we often don’t consider enough the emotional/personal side of the LD experience and too many kids in school have “no one to play with.”

Left to their own, these children have trouble navigating the social waters around them. Back in the Hill Top days, the kids and the staff often had lunch together and casually socialized. The boundary between teacher and student blurred at times, but it was great fun and I think we (staff and students) learned lot. For some of the kids with social problems having a staff member they could “hang with” seemed to make a big difference in improving their social self-esteem.

I’m not sure I hear much of that type of thing going on in this era of outcome measurement and evidenced-based education. How do you measure  the impact having lunch with a kid has on his or her social and emotional development?

You don’t, really.

The impact is immeasurable.