Treating Social Skill Deficits in Children with Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of the Research

NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 26 describes the following:

Title | Treating Social Skill Deficits in Children with Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of the Research

Author | Forness, S.R., & Kavale, K.A.

Source Learning Disability Quarterly, 19(1), 2-13.  Permanent online link:

Year Published | 1996

Presents a meta-analysis of 53 studies from the past 15 years on social skills training or intervention for children with learning disabilities (LDs). Although social skills deficits seem to be characteristic of children with LDs, such deficits appear highly resistant to treatment. Across the 53 studies analyzed, the training mean effect size obtained was only .211, with very few differences among teachers, peers, or children who judged effectiveness of training. Children with LDs seemed the most impressed with their social skills after training. However, peers without LDs tended to view the same results as significantly less positive. Teacher impressions were modest regarding the impact of training on overall social adjustment and almost negligible regarding intervention for such problems as conduct disorders or hyperactivity. Among all 3 groups, actual social interaction was rated among the least improved skills. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2004 APA, all rights reserved)

Many children with learning disabilities have social skills deficits but it is not clear how these deficits develop. There are different hypotheses that have sought to explain this issue. Some believe that children with LD develop social skills deficits due to the fact that they have a low self concept and suffer from peer rejection. Others believe that poor social relationships lead to underachievement and LD while others suppose that both, LD and social skills deficits have a common neurological origin. The measurement of social skills deficits in children with LD is sometimes difficult because there is not a clear definition of what are social skills deficits and because of the difficulty in classifying the various components of social competence. There are various intervention programs such as modeling the skill to be learned, shaping or approximating the skills through reinforcement, and rehearsal and practice. Since many programs provide different emphases to these procedures, sometimes it is difficult to identify the contribution of specific methods within a particular intervention or across interventions.

Research Questions
This meta-analysis examines the effectiveness of social skills intervention for children with learning disabilities.

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 53
  • Number of Subjects | 2113
  • Years Spanned | 1980-1995

Research Subjects

  1. Seventy four percent of the participants were male
  2. They averaged 11.5 years of age.
  3. Their mean IQ was approximately 96.

Age/Grade of Subjects
Average age = 11. 5

Specified Disability
Learning Disabilities (LD)

Almost all of the studies used a social skills training program specifically designed for research purposes.

Duration of Intervention
Average amount of social skills training was 3 hours per week over 10 weeks


  1. Students who participated in social skills intervention showed only modest gains as a result of their treatment.
  2. Sixty five percent of students who participated in social skills intervention reported that their social status increased as a result of their treatment.  Their peers and teachers, however, evaluated the effects of social skills intervention for students with LD more modestly.
  3. More than 6 out of 10 students with LD also perceived benefits from social skills training in self-concept, social problem solving, and social competence; but fewer perceived improvement in social interactions or locus of control.
  4. Teachers were not very impressed with the impact of training on social adjustment and stated that academic competence was not affected by such training.

Combined Effects Size

  1. The mean effect size across all studies was 0.211.
  2. Nevertheless, there were small differences in the way teachers, peers, and children with LD themselves evaluated the outcome of social skills training or intervention.
  3. The mean ES in which self-report or self-rating by students with LD was obtained was 0.244.
  4. Peers evaluated the effects of social skills intervention for their classmates with LD, and the effect size was 0.205.
  5. Teachers also evaluated the effects of social skills intervention in their LD students and reported an effect size of 0.163


  1. Even though there was no significant correlation for length of training, it is possible that longer interventions might be needed to produce results.
  2. The controversies around the origin of social skills deficits in children with learning disabilities could be another explanation for the poorest results. If low achievement in fact leads to poor self-esteem or peer-rejection, then the efforts might be directed to academic deficits instead to social skills deficits.
  3. Monitoring fidelity of treatment was not an important priority; therefore we can not be absolutely convinced that the intervention was delivered in an efficient manner. Future research should focus on these issues to ensure more confident results.
  4. Future research should focus more thoroughly on issues concerning length of training, assessment instruments, and training components.


* Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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