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Social Competence and Down Syndrome An analysis of social competence in children with down syndrome, and how teachers can facilitate social competence.
What is social competence? Social competence is the term used to describe an individual’s ability and skills to interact socially with others.
Definitions The “ability to achieve personal goals in social interaction while simultaneously maintaining positive relationships with others over time and across situations” (Rubin & Rose-Krasnor, 1992, p. 285). An “individual’s ability to initiate and maintain satisfying, reciprocal relationships with peers” (Katz & McClellan, 1997 , p. 1).
Examples of Social Competence Emotion regulation Language skills Problem-Solving skills Social Awareness skills Social knowledge and understanding “knowledge of the norms and the main social customs of the groups” (Kemple, 2004, p. 4) “ability to predict accurately another’s reactions to the common events of peer interaction, to anticipate others’ preferences, and to understand the feelings experienced by others” (Kemple, 2004, p. 5)
Cultural Implications Social competence can vary based on an individual’s cultural background. For instance, in America “a high level of social competence generally means that a person exhibits responsible, independent, friendly, cooperative, purposeful, and self-controlled behavior” (Kemple, 2004, p. 3).
Examples Sarah, who is 6 years old, has recently begun kindergarten in a class with 17 typically developing peers. Sarah has developmental delay with mental retardation and autism. During the 30-minute free choice time, Sarah flits rapidly from one center to another. She may spend only a couple of seconds in a center, just long enough to grab a toy or other material and carry it to the next center to deposit it…Her activity appears to involve no pretending, and consists of simple manipulation of objects…Her classmates generally ignore Sarah. A few actively avoid her, making comments like, “She’s weird” or “She’s just a baby.” (Kemple, 2004, p. 1-2). Discuss Sarah’s social competence.
Examples In a kindergarten classroom, Alissa and Jonathan are playing restaurant. Kara quietly approaches the two children. They glance at Kara and say hi but do not invite her to join the play. Kara watches unobtrusively for a few minutes. “Here’s your hamburger and fries, ma’am,” says Jonathan as he sets a plate down in front of Alissa. “Thank you, waitress [sic],” Alissa responds. “That looks delicious,” comments Kara. Jonathan turns to Kara and asks, “Would you like something to eat?”“Yes, please,” says Kara.Kara’s inclusion in the group successfully achieved, the three children play together for the rest of the morning.(Katz, 1997, p. 2-3) Discuss Alissa’s social competence.
What is Down Syndrome? Down Syndrome is a condition that results from having an extra chromosome, called Chromosome 21. This extra chromosome causes similar facial and body characteristics between those individuals with Down Syndrome, as well as delays in cognitive development, which can affect social competence.
“Most kids with Down syndrome are smaller than other kids their age. But even though they may look and act differently, they are kids, just like you.” (Gordon, 1999, p. 9)
Down Syndrome and Social Competence All children usually need assistance in managing their social competence. …“like all children, the social development of infants and children with Down syndrome will be influenced by their temperament, experiences in the family, school and community and by the way they are treated by others” (Buckley et al., 2002, paragraph 3)
Down Syndrome and Social Competence Just like children without developmental disabilities, the social competence of children with Down Syndrome depends on their temperament, personality, language and cognitive abilities, and the cultural and community influences. “like typically developing children, some children with Down syndrome will be more difficult to manage than others and that some will have more social difficulties than others, as a result of temperamental differences” (Buckley et al., 2002, Temperament and personality)
Down Syndrome and Social Competence The one area where Down Syndrome children’s social competence may be affected is through their language ability and cognitive ability. “Children's social development is influenced by their understanding of the world around them and the behaviour of others, therefore children with delayed cognitive (mental) development are likely to have more difficulty in becoming socially competent and in controlling or self-regulating their behaviour.” (Buckley et al., 2002, Language and cognitive abilities)
Down Syndrome and Social Competence “The level of social skills that can be acquired is partly a function of cognitive abilities so that individuals with very compromised intellects necessarily have limitations in their social abilities.” (Sigman et al., 1999, p. 11) “children with Down syndrome who progress more slowly than most in language and cognitive development will be more at risk for behaviour and social difficulties and will be more demanding to manage for longer periods of time during childhood” (Buckley et al., 2002, Language and cognitive abilities)
Down Syndrome and Social Competence Children with Down Syndrome may encounter social competence problems if they do not, can not, or are not allowed to play with their peers. “Being regularly excluded and rejected damages relationships and self-esteem.” (Lawhon & Lawhon, 2000, p. 105). “Preschool-age children with developmental delays often engage in fewer social interactions and less mature social behavior than same-age peers without disabilities.” (Kemple, 2004, p. 10) “The lesser amount of peer interaction observed in children with disabilities may be due to less competence in engaging peers in interaction, may be due to rejection by peers, or may be due to the greater amount of time children with disabilities spend…in interactions with adults.” (Kemple, 2004, p. 10)
However, research suggests that inclusion of disabled children into settings with non-disabled children is positive towards their social competence development. “Successful peer interaction has been identified as an important contributor to self-efficacy of children with disabilities… The inclusive classroom arrangement provides the potential for children with disabilities to build friendships with typically developing peers, to benefit from the availability of appropriate peer models, and to use skills in a context that provides realistic social consequences.” (Kemple, 2004, p. 9) Down Syndrome and Social Competence
Teacher’s Role Model: Model appropriate behavior, such as taking deep breaths when upset, instead of yelling (emotional regulation). Scaffold: Assist students by offering advice on how to solve problems, or communicate their wants and needs. Suggest ways for students to interact and play with those peers that are different than them, such as a peer with Down syndrome. Children “need the support of a caring adult at first, and then later interactions with peers, in order to encounter the experiences that will guide their brain development in the social and emotional domains” (Willis & Schiller, 2011, p. 49).
Video Example of how teachers can facilitate social competence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXwFXGu8Ots
Implications As teachers, we need to be aware of all POSSIBLE barriers to positive social competence in children with Down Syndrome, or other disabilities, as well as children without disabilities. Just because a child with Down Syndrome may lack strong language and cognitive abilities, his/her social competence potential can still be positively affected.
References Buckley, S., Bird, G., & Sacks, B. (2002). Social development for individuals with Down Syndrome: An overview. Down Syndrome Issues and Information. doi:10.3104/9781903806210 Gordon, M.A. (1999). Let’s talk about Down syndrome. New York: PowerKids Press. Katz, L.G. & McClellan, D.E. (1997). Fostering children’s social competence: The teacher’s role. NAEYC Publications. Kemple, K.M. (2004). Let's be friends: Peer competence and social inclusion in early childhood programs. Early Childhood Education Series. Lawhon, T. & Lawhon, D.C. (2000). Promoting social skills in young children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 28(2), pg. 105-110. Rubin, K.H. & Rose-Krasnor, L. (1992). Interpersonal problem solving. In V.B. Van Hasselt & M. Hersen(Eds.), Handbook of Social Development (pp. 283-323). New York: Plenum. Sigman, M., Ruskin, E., Arbelle, S., Corona, R., Dissanayake, C., Espinosa, M., Kim, N., Lopez, A., Zierhut, C., Mervis, C.B., & Robinson, B.F. (1999). Continuity and change in the social competence of children with Autism, Down syndrome, and developmental delays. Monographs of the Society for research in Child Development, 64(1), pg. i+iii+v-vi +1-139. Willis, C.A. & Schiller, P. (2011). Preschoolers’ social skills steer life success. Young Children, 66(1), pg. 42-29.