Social skills challenges for adults with disabilitiesNicole Archambault Besson, Los Angeles speech-language pathologist, discusses how disabilities can affect social skills.

Most of us take our social skills for granted. We easily get along with others. However, for adults with social skills problems, simple everyday communication with family, friends, potential life-partners and business acquaintances can be very challenging.

Our relationships are a large part of what makes us human. But adolescents and adults with social skills challenges often feel rejected and isolated. The very social skills that should connect people, keep them feeling disconnected.

There are many opportunities, such as social skills groups, for children and adolescents to learn and practice good social skills in Los Angeles. But the opportunities for adults are much more limited.

When a person has difficulty with the give and take of social communication, their lives are affected in many ways. Social skills problems can get in the way of making friends, finding a mate, raising children, and keeping a job.

What problems can get in the way of social interactions?

Social interaction is much more complex that most people realize. For example, we rely on facial expressions and tone of voice to convey our meaning to others. For those adults with special needs such as learning disabilities or autism, catching the subtle nuances of communication is often quite challenging.

Individuals who have trouble paying attention to visual information can miss facial expressions or other body language signals from their companion. Facial expressions and body language such as gestures convey a tremendous amount of information. For those who are not adept at noticing and interpreting visual information, forming close, trusting relationships can be difficult.

Some people with special needs have trouble making sense of auditory information, even though their hearing is perfectly fine. They may struggle to understand the speaker’s tone of voice, for example, and therefore misinterpret their intended meaning.

Another issue that may get in the way of relationships is not being able to tell the difference between sounds that are similar such as the “b” and “p” sounds. People with this problem can have a great deal of trouble just figuring out what their companion is saying to them. This can get in the way of the smooth flow of communication and may leave a companion feeling that his or her thoughts and feelings are not important.

Another skill that can be troublesome for adults with social skills problems is difficulty with the vestibular system—the system that feeds the brain information about our position in space. People who have trouble processing spatial information may appear clumsy, bump into others, or stand too close or too far away from their companion when speaking. This aspect of communication is called “proximity” and it sends messages about intimacy, trust and threat. When a person with proximity problems stands too close to someone with whom they are not intimate, it can be threatening and unpleasant for the companion.

Adults whose disability in is the area of language skills may struggle to understand certain kinds of language more than others. For example, people with language problems often have trouble making sense of idioms (it’s raining cats and dogs) or abstract language (words that refer to non-physical concepts such as “love” or “acceptable”).

People with language problems can have difficulty keeping up in conversations and may not respond at the right time. This can give their companions the impression they are not paying attention or do not really care.

If language skills are weak, the ability to ask and respond to questions or make comments can be disorganized and inefficient. Some individuals can miss the “big picture” in a companion’s message, focusing instead on unimportant details.

Another important aspect of successful social interaction is strong attention skills. For those who struggle in this area, the ability to appear interested in a conversation, follow what is said, and stay on-topic can be a challenge. People who have attention problems such as ADHD, can fail to remember what has been said in a conversation, or may jump from one topic to the next as their attention shifts. They can also have trouble monitoring their thoughts and impulses and can “put their foot in their mouth.”

The good news is that all of these skills can be improved with dedication and practice. Adults with social skills issues can join social skills training groups where they can receive valuable guidance and the chance to practice relating to others in a safe environment. And professionals such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and educational therapists can help adults practice language, attention and visual skills that underlie effective social interactions.

Practical dating strategies from Mr. Jason Thomas, licensed educational psychologist.

Links to social skills groups for adults and practical strategies for forming relationships.

Nicole Archambault Besson, EdS, MS, CCC-SLP, CLEC, CIMI is an ASHA board certified speech-language pathologist specializing in the assessment, treatment, and consultation of speech, language, and communication disorders. She specializes in: auditory & language processing, communication skills for individuals on the autism spectrum, orofacial myology, executive function skills, brain-based learning, and early intervention parent training. Nicole is the owner and director of Minds In Motion, a progressive private practice clinic in West Los Angeles, where she and her team provide compassionate and individualized care to children and their families.
Contact Ms. Besson:
Phone: (310) 936-3020