Academic, social or behavioral? Can they be separated?

School age children with learning disabilities often have difficulties. Sometimes, people (teachers, parents, administrators, psychologists, the kids themselves) try to divide the problems into academic, social and behavioral.  Maybe this is sometimes useful, but often, it’s a false division. All three play into each other in a sort of vicious circle; and the start of relief can come from any point in the circle but full relief takes work on all the issues.For example, take me (the case I know best!) In middle and high school people might have said I had no academic problems. No one would have said I had no social or behavioral problems! Academically – I got good grades with little effort. OK, I could have gotten better grades with a little effort. But I didn’t fail courses. So, no problem, right? Wrong. I’ll come back to that.

Socially I had no friends. It was a huge mess. No one knew how to deal with it. Things are somewhat better nowadays, but not all that much.

Behaviorally – oy vey! I yelled out answers, I interrupted, I disrupted …. and that was on a good day!  On bad days I would curse at my teachers or tell them they were stupid. Two lines of mine that I remember, decades later, are “I don’t have to listen to you because I am smarter than you are” and “If you’re going to teach this subject, shouldn’t you know it?” Ay yi yi!

Academically, I was bored out of my gourd. I could have handled much more advanced work.  This is part of what led to no friends: I liked math! (In a tiny school that did not have a strong academic flavor). And, because I was socially immature and inept, I told other kids they were stupid (not a way to make friends!) and I didn’t share their interests. (Also, I was skinny, uncoordinated and nearsighted). So there were academic problems: I was in the wrong school. I took one course in college when I was in 1oth grade and that was better, all around. Then I skipped 12th grade and that was excellent.

Now, maybe you or your child has different academic issues. Maybe the regular curriculum is too quick; or too quick in one subject but fine in others, or too quick in one subject and too slow in others. Teachers in classrooms full of 30 kids or more can’t teach to each (unless the teacher is superhuman, as some are). They go for the middle. That causes problems for everyone who is far from the middle.

Maybe your child’s academic problems manifest themselves differently – your child could be covering up his or her differences by being the class clown or by being silent. By hanging out with a clique of kids who you don’t like, or any number of ways.

Or maybe your child’s academic problems are caused by social ones: A child who is terrified of his or her peers, or constantly anxious about performance, will usually not be able to do his best academically, either. A child who is thinking about how to avoid bullies in between classes is not thinking about what the teacher is saying.

Almost no one (child or adult) likes being angry, isolated, teased…. Nearly all people want approval.  So, when they act in ways that seem (to you!) designed to make them angry, isolated, teased and disapproved…. well, in all likelihood, the cause is elsewhere. They aren’t doing it on purpose. And addressing the “elsewhere” may resolve the problems.


  1. I agree that this is an extremely important topic to think about with learning disabled kids, especially gifted ones. In my own experience, I had a lot of difficulties in different areas of my life, but people tended to think if I solved so and so issue, I’d be set. Definitely not the case.

  2. Yeah, we 2E people are very misunderstood.

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