Is your child socially dyslexic?

Up until now it was thought that making friends was just something children had to learn on their own; playground rules and all that. But new information out of the US suggests that some children experience more difficulty making friends; a situation which has been coined “social dyslexia” and it’s up to us, as parents, to teach these skills to them.

Much like traditional dyslexia, where sufferers have difficulty interpreting numbers and letters on the page in front of them, socially dyslexic children have difficulty reading and interpreting social cues from others, making it tricky for them to meet and retain friends.

Michelle Garcia Winner is a speech pathologist who helped to develop the new way of thinking about kids and their friendships.

She says that the approach works because it acknowledges that not all children enter the world (or school) with the same social skills.

Socially dyslexic children lack the skills that other children have mastered, they then experience difficulty getting along with children in their class, a situation which can be made worse by growing frustration and anxiety.

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Winner says for children who have social dyslexia it can take a lot longer for them to be able to read social cues, which makes it hard for them to join in games and activities with their peers – leaving them isolated and stuck in a cycle of loneliness.

“Considering that 75 per cent of communication is facial expression and body language, stance, volume and tone of voice – and 25 per cent is language – being sluggish at interpreting these cues can leave them at a serious disadvantage,” Winner told

Rather than just letting friendships develop naturally, the new approach sees parents a lot more involved when it comes to interacting with other children.

The idea is that social interaction as a skill which must be taught and practiced while children are young.

Experts say that parents should focus on teaching children to be aware of their own body language when addressing a group and to stand with their chest towards others.

They also recommend talking to children about standing at an appropriate distance when having a conversation so as to not agitate others and to discuss facial expressions and how they could be interpreted by others.

developing kids' imaginations

Image: iStock. 

Parents should also be sure to limit screen time, a factor which may psychologists believe it to blame in the decline in children's social skills, and encourage outdoor social activities.

"I have no doubt that the rise in online activities for children- even very young children- has an impact on their social development," says Sydney based child counsellor Brydie Wright.

"We are in a world where kids have these digital friendships, which is great, but it also means that they miss out on being face-to-face with others.

"They don't learn to read expressions and those subtle social cues that give us an insight into how the other person may be feeling and reacting to what we say.

"I've seen some children who will look at a picture of a sad face and interpret that as anger. They therefore react in an aggressive way which is totally unfounded but obviously has great impact on how they get along with other children."

Based on the new information some experts are recommending that "friendship practice" be implemented in schools to assist children in developing the much needed skills to ensure they develop and maintain secure friendships.