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A new world of complex relationships and feelings opens up when the peer group takes its place alongside the family as the emotional focus of the child's life. Early peer relationships contribute significantly to the child's ability to participate in a group (and in that sense, society), deal with competition and disappointment, enjoy the intimacy of friendships, and intuitively understand social relationships as they play out at school, in the neighborhood, and later in the workplace and adult family. - Stanley I. Greenspan, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences, and Pediatrics at the George Washington University Medical School, in the Afterword to his book Playground Politics (Greenspan, 1993).
You can't say you can't play. - Vivian Gussin Paley, retired kindergarten teacher from the Laboratory Schools at the University of Chicago and recipient of the MacArthur award for genius, chose this as the title and theme for one of her books on the cognitive and social worlds of children (Paley, 1992).
Social skills indicate more about children as individuals than perhaps any other aspect of their behavior. Social communication also opens the door to learning from peers as well as from adult mentors. It was Mavis Donahue from whom one of us (NWN) adopted the term "underground curriculum" in describing peer influences on the social curriculum that children learn from each other in school (Nelson, 1998). Active learning of social expectations from peers presumes, however, that children are open to the influences of their peers and can process the cues of social acceptance and social appropriateness adequately to learn from them. It also presumes that peers are available and have some motivation to make social overtures to children with special needs of various kinds. What happens when either side of this social equation fails to develop naturally?
Social communication, verbal and nonverbal, bears evidence of the effects of both nature and nurture as much as any other area of cognitive- linguistic and communication development. In this issue of Topics in Language Disorders (TLD), Issue Editor Geralyn Timler has assembled a group of productive author/researchers who shed light from multiple angles on the dimensions of social interactions-from teachers' supports for children who rarely initiate (Girolametto and Weitzman) to assessment for children who bully or intimidate, and their victims (Ostrov and Godleski). The authors tackle aspects of social difficulties of many kinds and offer innovative assessment protocols and technologies (Hyter; Olswang, Coggins, and Svensson). In these pages, readers will find plenty of food for thought, as well as practical information about what clinicians and teachers might do to facilitate social communication when it goes astray or has little depth (Timler, Vogler-Elias, and McGill). Hyter also helps readers to conceptualize the social context of the preschool classroom in the broader context of societal power structures.
This issue is particularly strong in capturing not only the products but also the process of scientific approaches to problem solving. In this respect, it exemplifies the journal's recently refined dual purposes:
1. To serve as a scholarly resource for researchers and clinicians who share an interest in spoken and written language development and disorders across the lifespan, with a focus on interdisciplinary and international concerns, and
2. To provide relevant information to support theoretically sound, culturally sensitive, research-based clinical practices.
Goldstein, Schneider, and Thiemann, in particular, describe a body of research that has incorporated and expanded on practical questions about how to address the social interaction difficulties of children with special needs by working directly with their peers. They point out the importance and the effectiveness of encouraging peers to make overtures to children who might not otherwise be engaged in social interactions. This is a unique opportunity to gain an inside look into the evolution of a body of research with important implications for clinical practice.
This issue addresses the purposes of TLD in another way-that is, in its focus on interdisciplinary approaches to addressing the special needs of students facing a variety of issues. The authors of this issue represent different disciplines themselves. They also recognize the importance of teachers and service providers from across disciplines, as well as peers, for their
Nickola Wolf Nelson, PhD, Editor
Katharine G. Butler, PhD, Editor Emerita
Greenspan, S. I. (1993). Playground politics. Reading, MA: Perseus Books. [Context Link]
Nelson, N. W. (1998). Childhood language disorders in context: Infancy through adolescence. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. [Context Link]
Paley, V. G. (1992). You can't say you can't play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [Context Link]
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