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Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a relatively new concept in teaching. The concept comes from CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). Essentially, it’s the idea that things that happen socially cause an emotional impact and can influence learning in children. Teachers are trained by the social staff within the school to develop skills to better address these issues.

If you’re a parent of a special needs child, like I am, you’re probably ready for this type of learning in your school. In advocating for my son in the school system, I have been a great supporter of social-emotional learning. Not only does it benefit typical children but it is also a strategy that should be used when forming IEPs (Individual Education Plan) for special needs children. Here’s why it works.

Social-emotional learning gets results

In studies done by CASEL, there was an 11 percentile point gain on average in students that participated in SEL. Helping children tap into their social side and learn to interact with their peers creates greater participation and makes working in a group setting easier. There are fewer behavioral problems and greater achievement overall. 

Think about what that means for children with issues such as autism or ADHD. It provides a willingness for inclusion and an openness to listen to all points of view. This also sets up special needs children for better modeling of their peers.

Destress and plug into positivity

The key factors in SEL are to teach social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, and self-management. By touching on these parts of their selves, children learn to understand one another and develop deeper relationships with their peers. They learn to tune into others’ feelings and develop coping strategies for difficult times.

When they develop these skills, research has shown that children show less depression and anxiety, and withdraw less socially. Even years later as adults, those taught with the SEL program were still able to deal with stressful situations better than those without SEL. Many of these coping strategies are the same strategies that our special needs children are taught through therapies. What makes SEL great is that every child is on the same page and they are learning these skills together.

Bring it home

The SEL program is designed to bring the learning home to the family and even to the community. It’s a program based on respect. It teaches us to learn who we are as individuals and what our needs are in the moment and beyond. Teaching how to communicate those needs is essential in life, and not every child has a home life that follows this path.

Let’s face it, we live in a busy world, full of obligations and stress. Most days, I’m just trying to get dinner on the table and homework done. Families that learn to talk openly about feelings without judgement and work toward solutions together will strengthen the connections that are already present.

Now imagine your community doing the same thing. Much of the research conducted and discovered by CASEL has shown that children involved in SEL have grown to be better workers. Many work places are also adding some components of SEL to their training platforms.

Gone are the days of negative reinforcement and corporal punishment, thank goodness. There has been so much research done in the past 20 years that shows how harmful these old ideas of parenting and teaching have been. The answer has been with us the whole time as it goes along with the Golden Rule: treat others the way we would like to be treated, even our children. The SEL program is a great way to begin.

Ask your school about it. Be an advocate for your children and push for the type of learning that involves the entire self. At every IEP meeting that I have had for my son, the same issue is always brought up: if the problem isn’t directly related to academics, it cannot be addressed. However, when I begin to point out that his anxiety over facing a class where he knows no one will create an environment where he cannot learn, they pause.

The emotional impact that our children feel daily will undoubtedly spill over into learning. Children who have difficult home lives or who are extremely introverted will experience that same emotional overspill. There are so many life situations that can play a role in how our children learn. SEL is the perfect way to address them all.

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