School events & situations

6 School Situations That Can Be Socially Challenging for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues

By Erica Patino

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Common school activities like lunch and recess give your child a chance to socialize at school. But these social situations can sometimes be challenging for kids with learning and attention issues. Here’s how.

188Found this helpful
Young girl entering the cafeteria for lunch
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Lunchtime is a daily school activity that’s mostly unstructured. That can be tough for kids who may not understand what’s expected socially. For example, kids who have trouble socially might plop down at a lunch table seat, ignoring that another child has already put his belongings there to “save the seat.” Or they might say something impulsive that hurts another child’s feelings (“Your food looks gross!”). The noisiness of the lunchroom can also be tough for kids who already have trouble focusing.

Grade school children playing an outdoor game at recess
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Recess is free time. Kids with learning and attention issues might also feel disorganized during recess. They may not know how to follow the rules of games that other kids are playing or how to join in on a game that’s already in progress. Kids who are impulsive might throw a fit if they lose a game, annoying the other kids. Recess can also be overstimulating for kids who are hyperactive. Learn more about how social skills issues can play out at recess.

Grade school children on the school bus
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The School Bus

The school bus is a noisy place where multiple conversations happen at once. This can be overwhelming for kids with certain learning and attention issues. There are also unspoken social rules that govern the school bus. For example, some kids might understand not to sit next to Amy because she always saves the seat next to her for her friend Julie. But kids who have trouble picking up on social cues might sit next to Amy without a second thought. This could bother Amy—and also Julie, who has to find another seat. Find out more about what happens on the school bus.

Teens preparing for a school dance
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School Dances

School dances can be intimidating. They’re a more formal social setting than kids are used to at school, and may require getting dressed up. Asking another child to dance, and even dancing with someone, can also feel awkward! Kids may be unsure of how to ask another child to dance. Or they might dance too close or too far apart from their partner. The loud dance music and kids shouting over it can also be disorienting. Here some pointers on how to prepare your child for a school dance.

Grade school students on a class field trip
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Field Trips

Kids with learning and attention issues sometimes have trouble dealing with transitions—going from one activity to the next. A field trip, which involves going to an unfamiliar place, can be a tough transition. Other kids might be excited and a little rowdy on field trips, which could make your child feel “hyper” or anxious. Following rules, such as staying with the group at all times, can also be hard for some kids to follow.

Young girls in an after-school ballet class
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Before- and Afterschool Care Programs

Afterschool programs can have a lot of benefits. But the social dynamics of these programs can be hard for kids with learning and attention issues. They may experience some of the same challenges they face at recess, such as trouble following directions and participating in games. Or they may struggle to pick up on the social cues of other kids. Here are things to look for in an afterschool program. You might also consider using a before- or afterschool program that specializes in serving kids with learning and attention issues.

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About the Author

Portrait of Erica Patino

Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Molly Algermissen

Molly Algermissen, Ph.D., is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.

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