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Learning Disabilities: Understanding Friendship Body Language

By: Libby Pelham BA - Updated: 21 May 2012 | comments*Discuss
Body Language Learning Disabilities

Children with learning disabilities face many challenges but one that their teachers or parents may not have considered before is maintaining friendships. While these children may know how to establish friendships, they may lack the social skills needed to keep these friendships going. This includes not being able to properly read body language. Because of this inability, children with learning disabilities may not be able to work out conflicts with friends and the friendships may end due to communication failure.

Verbal and Nonverbal Messages

There are many verbal and nonverbal messages in friendships that may be misinterpreted by children with learning disabilities. These children often see things in black and white, which means they may not understand something as simple as a playful tease. They may misinterpret a joke as something serious and respond with hurtful words, feeling like they themselves have been attacked. Also, some children with learning disabilities are poor listeners, so they may only hear parts of what is being said and that could lead to confusion.


Children with learning disabilities may not only miss all that the other child is saying, but they may also have a problem interpreting what they do hear and the body language that goes along with it. He or she may spend so much of their time trying to understand the actual words the other child is saying that he or she may ignore the other’s body language.

But, body language is a very, very important part of communication. Often verbal and nonverbal communication will either contradict or complement each other, but the child with a learning disorder may miss that. They may hear criticism when the speaker doesn’t have that intention or misunderstand things as too negative, which can lead to hurt feelings. These children can be super sensitive to condemnation and may react quickly and harshly when they feel they have been insulted. When this happens, the friendship may end abruptly.

Verbal Misunderstandings

Children with learning disabilities often take the words that other say too literally. The fact that what the person is saying (“You are such a dork!”) may contradict what their body language is saying (open, friendly stance towards the child with learning disabilities). With practice, these children can be taught that while you can control what comes out of your mouth and people can say things they don’t mean, their body language rarely lies. The nonverbal communication such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body posture is much more important than anything said verbally. Once they learn that and how to correctly read body language, maintaining friendships can be much easier for them.

Learning to Relate

Children with learning disorders can learn what comes naturally to most of us – how to read body language. These children should be taught to look for consistency between what is verbally being said and what the nonverbal body language is saying. Practice with siblings and other family members can help them learn what the real message is.

They can learn the difference between someone playfully teasing them and intentionally saying something to hurt their feelings based not only on what is said, but if the body language matches the words. They can also be taught to resolve any conflict that may occur due to a misunderstanding, sometimes simply by asking the other child what he or she meant by a statement.

Teaching children with learning disabilities how to interpret nonverbal messages and calmly resolve conflict can help them avoid losing friends through a simple misinterpretation of a joke or comment.

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