• Few or No Friends

Teens with learning disabilities: Making friends

Published: April 20, 2013 | By | 6 Replies Continue Reading
Teens with learning disabilities often have problems making friends and keeping them.

Dear Dr. Levine,

My 16-year-old daughter has learning disabilities. Most people don’t notice this until they really start talking to her. She grew up in a closely-knit neighborhood and she had the same friends since preschool.

As she has gotten older, the differences have become more apparent and her friends began to spend less and less time with her. She has a difficult time finding anyone to hang out with on the weekend and is really upset by this and can’t understand why.

Her very best friend has completely cut her out since eighth grade and will not even return her texts. She has made a few new friends in high school but they don’t seem to have a lot of time for her outside of school either. None of these girls are mean to her; they just don’t call her up or make plans with her.

I don’t know how to help her out. She babysits in the neighborhood all the time and all the parents rave about how wonderful she is. She is really a lovely girl, dresses and looks the same as the other girls, but she has a sweet naiveté about her that doesn’t seem to mesh with the other teens. I think she has trouble keeping up with their conversations, inside jokes etc.

How can I help her out with this? I am heartbroken watching her feel heartbroken. I would really appreciate your advice.

Signed, Heartbroken Mom


Dear Heartbroken Mom,

It is not uncommon for teens with learning disabilities to have problems making and keeping friends. Of course, the nature of these problems varies widely depending on the individuals and their disabilities.

For example, teens with learning disabilities are more likely to lack self-confidence—or may have a hard time reading social cues, such as knowing when to speak and when to listen.

Given that I don’t know your daughter’s precise situation, here are a few thoughts:

1) Teens have a hard time accepting people who are different, with or without learning disabilities. It is also natural that friendships change as children enter adolescence. Bear in mind, as long as your daughter has one or two friends in high school, she doesn’t necessarily need to be “popular” or have a circle of friends.

2) Be a good listener. It sounds like you are very sensitive to your daughter’s feelings; continue to allow her to vent her problems and frustrations.

3) Apropos of these conversations and your own observations, can you identify the specific social deficits that seem to interfere with her friendships? If so, you can role-play and coach her so she can learn new skills.

4) To help nurture after-school and/or weekend friendships, are there any areas (e.g. in sports, arts of crafts, theater) in which your daughter excels? If so, encourage her participation in some planned activity or non-academic class so she has opportunities to meet new friends in a small setting.

5) If you aren’t sure what is interfering with your daughter’s friendships, if she seems depressed, or if you don’t feel comfortable addressing these problems on your own, you might want to speak to a counselor who specializes in learning disabilities. Such an individual can work with you and your daughter to assess her specific deficits and identify strategies to overcome them.

6) Finally, although you might feel like you are the only one with this problem right now, you are not alone. it might be helpful to find a family support group in your community with other parents who are struggling with similar problems. The guidance counselor at school may be able to help you find such a resource.

Hope this is helpful. It sounds like your daughter has so many nice qualities that these high school years may turn out to be the worst.

Best regards, Irene

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Category: Social skills and friendship

Comments (6)

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  1. Nicki says:

    HI Heart broken Mum, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had to double check that I hadn’t written this article myself. My daughter (also 16) is so lonely and doesn’t deserve to be. She has a learning disability also and is socially shy. She is kind, loyal, generous, non judgemental, articulate, focused and driven. But non of these fantastic personality traits have been enough to gift her with a nice circle of friends. She is never bullied, but always overlooked. My heart breaks for her as in high school, friendships are out of my hands. It is just so very sad. xo

  2. Anthony 70 year old wisdom says:

    Look all will be ok<, if you as a parent do not make a big deal out for it ,just on a friday start a together at home involve her in what mom does , like bad kid seem to find each in school,, the week seem to do the same and all in between . my daughter , her friends were all good gal and she went with them its like a posse they all stand together and all is well.. she's 50 now had 3 kids all ok ones 27 ones 23 ones 17 one went to U.T. one went to Carson Newman, one just left, were can't remember but left Thrusday. so you see the quit ones seem to get it right. Good luck to all

  3. Buster S says:

    Every Child entering into this world is BEAUTIFUL, it
    only takes 2 eyes and 1 heart to actually see results!
    I raised and LOVE my 17yr. Old Daughter and every
    thing we see is the SAME! Unconditionaly we must
    always feel within our HEARTS than it makes it easier
    to see with our EYES!

  4. Kim says:

    My daughter struggles with friendships, too. She has ADD. Part of her IEP calls for social skills development, which she gets at her school in the form of both lunch group and one on one with the social worker. If your child has an IEP or 504 plan, talk with the social worker or counselor at her school who oversees her plan. My daughter is choice-enrolled at a different school this year–middle school. I was worried about not having any friends, but she has slowly been making new friends and keeping in touch via texting with some of her “old” friends. Most of her new friends are boys–they aren’t critical the way girls are and they’re not manipulative the way a lot of girls that age can be. But, she’s made one new friend from her lunch group who has ADHD. They get together most every day for lunch and recess. If you don’t belong to a church, please seek one out by attending services and seeing if you can find one with a strong Youth group leadership. The one place my daughter has found complete and non-judgmental acceptance is at our church. While we don’t make it to worship every week, both my daughters attend nearly every Youth Group activity. It helps that our church is rather small–every one knows my children and they know everyone, so it’s very comfortable for them.

  5. Friendship Doc says:

    Great suggestions, Amy! Thanks for adding them. Irene

  6. Amy says:

    A) I’d also talk to the school guidance counselor to see if she knows other students with who might be having similar social difficulties and if she can act as a liaison between the girls.
    B) Also, you may be able to find a support/therapy group for teens with difficulty with social interactions.
    C) Check out coaches for teens with autism/asperger’s. These are specially trained individuals, sometimes college students or recent graduates, who help identify and work on social skills through developing a mentoring relationship with clients.
    Good luck.

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