Category Archives: > Behavior Issues

Teaching Students about Their Learning Strengths and Weaknesses

by Michelle Garcia Winner, Social Thinking

Over the years, I have observed so many students get upset by the fact they had “autism” or “Asperger syndrome” or “ADHD.” While they could verbalize these terms aloud, they still didn’t seem to understand what their learning challenges actually were.

I have also observed many adults explaining to students that the reason they were having difficulty socializing, studying, and learning was because they had “autism” or “Asperger’s syndrome”, or “ADHD.” I thought this was a really abstract way of explaining to students with limited abstract thinking how best to understand their own learning challenges. I also have observed that many of our smart but socially not-in-step students were using their label as an excuse for not working at learning new ideas; they interpreted the fact that they had a diagnostic label as a reason to not continue to learn.

I have also been inspired by the writings of other professionals who describe learning abilities and challenges within a framework of “multiple intelligences” (see Howard Gardner). Essentially this means that each of us have different types of intelligences and we each have our strengths and weaknesses with regard to our own brain’s design.

Strengths and Weakness Lesson

The lesson I developed is about teaching our students and adults how to understand their social learning challenges in the context of their overall abilities and then how they can use their strengths to learn more strategies related to their weaknesses. I have done this lesson with students as young as eight years old and as old as they come.

The lesson is very simple. To save explaining it all with words, see the chart below.

Strength and Weakness Graph

Here are some basic things I do as I develop this type of chart with the student:

  1. Each chart is completely personalized for the person I am developing it with. It is not about recording test scores that purport to show competencies. The chart is about how the student perceives his or her own strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, you create the chart using any areas that are individualized to the student.
  2. To determine the ideas/areas to post on the chart, take time to talk to students and listen to what they enjoy doing and what they feel they do well.
  3. Always start by graphing out their strengths. It is good to show many perceived strengths. Again, strengths are not about listing academic tasks exclusively. If a student says she is really good at playing a specific computer game or Legos then we make that a category and talk about what number to give it on the chart.
  4. It is also important to find some areas where students perceive they are just OK – their skills are not good or bad. They perceive themselves to be similar to the average person in that area of functioning, or a “5” on the scale. With kids, you can use language such as:
    • “First tell me what you think you are really good at compared to other kids you know.” After you and the student have listed three to five areas on the chart then say,
    • “Now tell me something you are just OK at – you’re like most other kids during playing or learning.”
    • “Now tell me some things that your brain doesn’t make easy for you…things you have noticed most other people can learn easier than you.”
    • Who talks a lot in your class?
    • Who doesn’t tend to do their homework?
    • Who is really good in math?
    • Who is super friendly?
    • Who is mean?If students aren’t used to thinking about how they function compared to others, I will shift gears to explore the idea that we all think about what others around us are doing. At this point, I will ask the student to tell me things like:

    By having this discussion, you help them notice that they are aware of others’ strengths and weaknesses. This often helps them put their own abilities in perspective.

  5. If students can’t answer the questions, I go back and suggest ideas similar to my earlier conversation with them. Ultimately I am doing this to help them put their learning challenges in context. Our students with social emotional learning challenges are usually not good at spontaneously describing what they don’t do well; this is not something people usually talk about. Some ideas I ask them to consider include:
    • How do you do with keeping track of your homework assignments and doing the homework?
    • How do you do with writing paragraphs or reports (writing short responses on paper may have been a strength, while writing longer information is often a challenge)
    • How do you do making guesses about what you are reading?
    • How do you do with playing in a group?
    • How do you do with getting into a group?
    • How do you do talking to other kids?
    • Or I may just ask them about their “social skills”

    It’s important not to overwhelm students when discussing things that are harder for them to do. This is uncomfortable for most of us! Choose some main idea to explore based on what concerns exist with a particular student. At this point, students are usually willing to list these as weaknesses compared to the other areas on the chart.

  6. What to do if students rate a weakness as a perceived strength?I routinely make a chart of my brain’s strengths and weaknesses so they experience their teacher/leader admitting to weaknesses. Then, I’ll write the area they mentioned as a strength on the chart and pause there to discuss it more in the context of the others’ strengths. More often than not, students decide it should be listed as a lower number on the scale. However, I have worked with students who are genuinely afraid to list something as a weakness. In those cases I reassure them that everyone has weaknesses, including me. On rare occasions, I have said to a student, “Actually, this is an area that you are not as good at and this is why you are here today.” Then I lower the ranking on that social area on the scale compared to the other areas listed, while explaining that it is expected and OK that people have learning weaknesses.
  7. If you are familiar with the teachings of Social Thinking® you will also be able to explain how socially-based learning weaknesses (organizational skills, written expression, social relationships, reading comprehension, etc.) are all related. Making this connection with our students helps them see how they don’t have all that many weaknesses. Instead, there is a weak root system that leads to different areas of weakness. (For more information on this please read about the ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking in the book Inside Out: What Makes Persons with Social Cognitive Deficits TickThis concept is also the focus of the article, Social Thinking – Social Learning Tree.”)
  8. You will find your students are usually pretty honest about themselves. It is often amazing how they are willing to talk about the fact they have strengths and weaknesses when it’s presented this way. When they have strengths in language and learning facts, we can then explain how these abilities will help them learn more information in the areas where learning is not as easy or natural to them.
  9. Once the chart is completed, I then go on to talk about what it means to have a learning disability: that the student has relative learning weaknesses compared to their strengths or even the “OK” areas of learning. Remarkably, many of our students don’t understand what learning disabilities or differences are, so they react to their weaknesses with anger rather than understanding they can usually use some of their learning strengths to help them in their weaker areas. I have worked through anger about learning differences much more successfully using this scale.
  10. You will find that your students/adults are much more willing to discuss how they learn, what they are good at, and what they are not so astute at learning in this context, compared to simply talking to them about the fact they have ASD, AS, ADHD, etc.
  11. Once you’ve reached this point with students, the next step is to discuss specific things they can work at learning to boost their area of weakness to a higher number on the scale. I also explain that they likely will never get their weak area as high as their strong areas, because their strengths are what their brain is naturally good at learning. But they can improve how they do in their weaker areas as long as they work at learning!

Once you make the chart you can refer back to it session after session. It is also a helpful tool when explaining to parents/caregivers what our students’ labels really mean in terms of their learning abilities.

A note on language: The language-based explanation, “Your brain doesn’t make this easy for you,” helps many of our students put their challenges in context. Make sure you regularly point out when they are doing things their brains do make easy for them, and not only talk about their areas of weakness or areas that need improving.

Final, final note: The “art” of teaching is critical in this lesson. Stay in step with your students emotionally while you go through this lesson. Spend some significant time talking about what they are good at and pretty good at, rather than rush to their weaknesses and then spend all your time on this area. Remember, our students are often really talented when we are not demanding they participate in socially-based situations. Take time to celebrate the many things they do well to give them the strength to talk about what they don’t do as well.


[My note: Social Thinking is a terrific resource for families and professionals dealing with children who have socializing challenges.]

for Orton-Gillingham reading, writing and spelling help in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email

The ILAUGH Model: Social Thinking

 by Michelle Garcia Winner

 The ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking is a core (and critical) framework created and developed by Michelle Garcia Winner to help professionals and parents understand and think about the struggles faced by those with social learning challenges. The Framework is based on an extensive literature base of both seminal and current research and represents the foundation of all Social Thinking concepts.  ILAUGH is an acronym for the research-based concepts that contribute to challenges in those with social learning issues across academic, community, vocational, and social contexts.  The sections of the ILAUGH are not only grounded in the literature, but also represent a rich clinical base. Although the ILAUGH Model is divided into six key areas, there is commonly an overlap between and within each of the sections.

I = Initiation of Communication

(Kranz & McClannahan, 1993; Rao, Beidel, & Murray, 2008; Whalen, Schreibman, & Ingersoll 2006)

Initiation of communication is the ability to use one’s language skills (verbal and nonverbal) to start (or initiate) something that is not routine.  This can be in the form of difficulty asking for help, seeking clarification, executing a new task, and entering and exiting a peer group.  An individual’s ability to talk about his or her own topics of interest can be in sharp contrast to how that person communicates when in need of support or clarification. Yet, these two skills – asking for help and understanding how to join a group for functional or personal interaction – are paramount for future success in the workplace, academic endeavors and relationships.

L= Listening With Eyes and Brain

(Jones & Carr, 2004; Klin, Jones, Schultz, & Volkmar, 2003; Kunce & Mesibov, 1998; MacDonald et al., 2006; Marshall & Fox, 2006; Mundy & Crowson, 1997; Saulnier & Klin, 2007

From a social perspective, listening is more than just receiving auditory information. It routinely requires the integration of visual information with auditory information within the context in order to understand the full meaning of the message being conveyed, or at least make an educated guess about what is being said when the message cannot be interpreted literally. This is also referred to as “active listening” or whole body listening (Truesdale, 1990). Classrooms depend heavily on having all students attend nonverbally to the expectations in the classroom.

Many individuals with ASD, as well as others with social learning challenges, have technical visual processing strengths, but may struggle to comprehend information presented via the dual challenges of social visual information (reading nonverbal cues) and auditory processing.

A = Abstract and Inferential Language/Communication

(Adams, Green, Gilchrist, & Cox, 2002; Happe’, 1995; Kerbel & Grunwell, 1998; Minshew, Goldstein, Muenz & Payton, 1992; Norbury & Bishop, 2002; Rapin & Dunn, 2003; Simmons-Mackie & Damico, 2003)

Most of the language we use is not intended for literal interpretation. Our communication is peppered with idioms, metaphors, sarcasm and inferences. Societies around the world bestow awards to writers, and even comedians, who are the most creative with language. Each generation of teenagers and young adults leave a trail of new slang for consumption – most of which is abstract.

Abstract language has also crept into the digital, mass and social media markets. Our commercials, web banners, print flyers and video clips are full of abstract information that require all of us to interpret and infer the meaning. Do people really mean what they say in advertising? How do we know a good deal from a sham? It’s incredibly complicated and yet most of us can easily understand the underlying meaning.  And, it is a mistake to assume that individuals with strengths in factual knowledge, but underlying social thinking challenges, understand the non-literal use of language so prevalent in our society. In fact, many don’t!

Active interpretation of the motives and intentions of others emerges in the first year of life and expands in complexity thereafter. Children learn that mom’s tone of voice speaks volumes and that attention to only her words can miss much of her message. As children grow developmentally, they understand that message interpretation depends heavily on one’s ability to “make a smart guess” based on past experiences, what they know (or don’t know) about the current person and situation, and the communication clues available. Language users assume their communicative partners are trying to figure out their messages. By third grade, neurotypical students understand that we are to infer meaning rather than expect it to be coded literally.

Individuals who struggle to interpret the abstract/inferential meaning of language also routinely struggle with academic tasks such as reading comprehension of literature (e.g., interpreting a character’s thoughts, actions and motives based on the context of the story) and written expression.

U = Understanding Perspective

(Baron-Cohen, 1995; Baron-Cohen, 2000; Baron-Cohen & Jolliffe, 1997; Flavell, 2004; Frith, & Frith, 2010; Hale & Tager-Flusberg, 2005; Kaland, Callesen, Moller-Nielsen, Mortensen, & Smith, 2007; Spek, Scholte, & Van Berckelaer-Omnes, 2010)

The ability to interpret others’ perspectives or beliefs, thoughts and feelings across contexts is critical to social learning. It is central to group participation in the social, academic or vocational world. Individuals with social learning challenges are often highly aware of their own perspective, but may struggle to see another’s point of view.   

To understand the differing perspectives of others requires that one’s Theory of Mind (perspective taking) work quickly and efficiently. Most neurotypically developing students acquire a solid foundation in ToM between the ages of 4 to 6 years old. Perspective taking is not one thing, it represents many things happening all at once meaning it is a synergistic and dynamic process. A definition of perspective taking can include the ability to consider your own and others:

  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Physically coded intentions
  • Language based intentions
  • Prior knowledge and experiences
  • Belief systems
  • Personality
  • While considering all of this with regards to the specific situation being considered.

The ability to take perspective is key to participation in any type of group (social or academic). It is also a critical component when interpreting information that requires understanding of other’s minds, such as reading comprehension, history, social studies, etc. However, like all other concepts explored in the ILAUGH model, one’s ability to take perspective is not a black or white matter.

G = Gestalt Processing/Getting the Big Picture

(Fullerton, Stratton, Coyne & Gray, 1996; Happe’ & Frith, 2006; Hume, Loftin, & Lantz, 2009; Pelicano, 2010; Plaisted, 2001; Shah & Frith, 1993; van Lang, Bouma, Sytema, Kraijer, & Minderaa 2006)

Conceptual processing is a key component to successful social and academic functioning. It is critical to be able to be a part of and follow the group plan or share an imagination.  Due to the fact that information is conveyed through concepts and not just facts, it is important that one is able to tie individual pieces of information into the greater concept. For example, when engaged in a conversation, the participants should be able to intuitively determine the underlying concept(s) being discussed, as well as identify the specific details that are shared. Similarly, when reading, one has to follow the overall meaning rather than just collect a series of seemingly unrelated facts. As with many elements of social cognition, this ability relies heavily on strong executive function skills. As a result, difficulty with organizational strategies often stems from problems with conceptual processing. Weaknesses in the development of this skill can greatly impact one’s ability to formulate written expression, summarize reading passages, and manage one’s homework load, as well as derive the intended meaning from a social conversation.

H = Humor and Human Relatedness

Gutstein, 2001; Greenspan, & Wieder, 2003; Losh & Capps, 2006; Loukusa et al., 2007; Ozonoff, & Miller, 1996; Prizant, Wetherby, Rubin, & Laurent, 2003; Prizant, Wetherby, Rubin, Laurent & Rydell, 2006; Williams & Happe’, 2010)

Human relatedness is at the heart of social interaction. Most of us desire some form of social interaction and our students, clients and family members are no exception. The struggle is having the ability to relate to other’s minds, emotions and needs. Establishing the concept of human relatedness is essential before advancing in any lessons.  Most of the clients with whom we work with have a very good sense of humor, but they often feel anxious because they miss many of the subtle cues that help them to understand how to use their humor successfully with others. It is important for educators/parents to work compassionately with humor to help minimize the anxiety the individual may experience. It is also not uncommon for many to struggle with using humor inappropriately and direct lessons targeting this concept are necessary.

Source Social Thinking:

Orton-Gillingham tutoring (reading and writing skills) in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email

Thanksgiving: ADHD Tips

By Lexi Walters Wright at

[Reading tutoring in Columbus OH: see below]

Interrupted Schedules

If your family is traveling for Thanksgiving, your child may be sleeping in a strange place and following an unfamiliar schedule. Even if you’re hosting, your family’s routines may be disrupted. That’s rough for kids with ADHD.

DO This: Stick to your child’s routines as much as possible. Try to arrange travel or guest schedules so that he eats and sleeps when he usually does. And prepare your child in advance for any disruptions you foresee. Give him an overview of what will be happening beforehand, and then remind him at each stage what’s coming next.

Waiting for the Meal

When the whole holiday is centered on a single meal, the hours beforehand can feel like eternity for children with attention issues. The anticipation may make them bored or cranky, which can lead to squabbles—or tantrums.

DO This: Before Thanksgiving, enlist relatives’ help to line up some morning activities. Could a grandparent or uncle take your child to the park? Might some older cousins set up a family game for the younger kids? Let the kids know in advance what’ll be happening when. This way dinner won’t be the only thing for them to look forward to.

Company Commotion

If your Thanksgiving involves a lot of people, your child may feel upset by the noise and activity. And kids with attention issues may get frustrated if they’ve settled down to read or work on a project and the hustle and bustle distracts them.

DO This: Whether you’re home or away, find your child an “out” spot. Agree on a place where he can go for a set period of time to be alone and listen to headphones, play a game on his phone, or read.

Preoccupied Parents!

Young kids with attention issues often need constant direction from adults. That’s hard when you’re trying to finish making Thanksgiving dinner and can’t stop to play with your child.

DO This: First, try to get as much as possible done before Thanksgiving Day. Make what you can in advance, buy the pies, go potluck for side dishes. That way, you can set aside time to check in periodically with your child. And delegate. Is there a relative who’d be happy to oversee your child for the morning? Give him coloring books, art supplies, puzzles or a new DVD so he can keep your child occupied while you’re busy.

Take Turns Talking

Kids with attention issues may talk nonstop before, during and after dinner, annoying guests. If your child is impulsive, he may interrupt family members’ stories to tell his own. If a grandparent challenges him, he might say something rude.

DO This: Before Thanksgiving, role-play appropriate ways your child might start, join and end conversations with guests. Consider coming up with a code phrase or signal you can use to clue him in if he starts taking over the conversation.

Sitting Still through the Long Meal

Lengthy holiday meals are especially tricky for children with attention issues, who may find it hard to sit through “grace,” let alone a multi-course meal. Add unfamiliar foods and grown-up discussions, and you’ve got the makings for a meltdown.

DO This: Relax your expectations. Thanksgiving isn’t the day to expect perfect behavior, so seat him at the kids’ table. He’ll do best with some parameters, such as not interrupting the adults. But let him wander between courses. If he’s a teen, see if he wants to be “in charge” of keeping dinner fun for the younger guests.


Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email

+ For Thanksgiving: Research on “Gratitude”

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An article by John Tierney in the NY Times offers advice for getting into the holiday spirit.  It even suggests that it’s possible to keep a good frame of mind even in the midst of dysfunctionally behaving loved ones.  

…what if you’re not the grateful sort?  I sought guidance from the psychologists who have made gratitude a hot research topic.

  • Start with “gratitude lite.”  Researchers at the University of California asked people to keep a once-a-week journal listing 5 things they were grateful for.  After two months, those who kept the lists faithfully were more optimistic, happier and reported fewer physical problems than those who did not.  Researcher Robert Emmons advises “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”
  • Don’t confuse gratitude with indebtedness.  Returning a favor is not gratitude; indebtedness is more of a negative feeling, according to psychologists.  At Northeastern University, researchers  found that students who were helped when their computers were sabotaged were likelier to help someone else — even a complete stranger.
  • Try it on your family.  Says Sonya Lyubomirsky of the University of California,  “Do one small and unobtrusive thoughtful or generous thing for each member of your family on Thanksgiving.  Say thank you for every thoughtful or kind gesture.  Express your admiration for someone’s skills or talents — wielding that kitchen knife so masterfully… and truly listen, even when your grandfather is boring you again with the same World War II story.”
  • Don’t counterattack.  If you’re bracing for insults, consider an experiment at the University of Kentucky.  Some subjects were praised when they handed in a piece of writing, while others received a scathing evaluation.  Later, those who were insulted retaliated meanly — unless they were  subjects who had been instructed to write about things they were grateful for!  Those people were not bothered by the nasty criticism (or at least they didn’t feel the need to retaliate meanly).  Nathan DeWall, who led the study, says “Gratitude…helps people become less aggressive.  It’s an equal opportunity emotion.  Anyone can experience it and profit from it.”
  • Share the feeling.  A researcher at the University of Miami, Dr. David McCulloch,  says “More than any other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship.  It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person.  Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.”

For this entire article by John Tierney in the Times on Nov 22, visit

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021 or email

+ NOV 29 Rick Lavoie Free Conference on Social Skills

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Not too late —OCECD “9th Annual Partnering for Progress: Understanding and Promoting Social Skills and Positive Behavior for Children with Learning Challenges” Conference by RICK LAVOIE is almost full. Hurry and register today at

This is a FREE conference, FREE lunch, and FREE parking. Certificates awarding four contact hours will be provided. NOV 29, at the Crowne Plaza Columbus North Hotel.

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email

+ Teachers: What You Can Do About Bullying

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  •  Ask students about bullying.  Survey students on a regular basis.  Ask whether they’re being harassed, or if they’ve witnessed harassment.  It should be easy for students to come to an adult and talk about harassment.  1) Build  staff-student relationships.  2)  Place suggestion boxes where students can provide input anonymously.  3)  Administer  school-wide surveys in which students can report confidentially on peers who bully or on the children whom they harass.   Also remember that the key is to know what bullying accomplishes for a bully.  Does he or she want to gain status?  Does the bully use aggression to control others?
  • Ask students about their relationships.    It is a fact that bullying is a destructive, asymetric relationship.  Learn who students associate with, who their friends are, who  they dislike.  Learn who are perceived by students to be popular and unpopular.  Connect with students who appear friendless.  Staff members’ knowledge of students’ relationships varies widely; they tend to underestimate the level of aggression among peers.
  • Build democratic classroom and school climates.  Identify student leaders who are able to encourage their peers to stand up against bullying.  Determine whether the social norms of students are really effective against harassment.  Train teachers to better understand and manage student social dynamics and better handle students’ aggression. Put in place clear and consistent consequences — this is a must.   Master teachers should build relationships, trust, and a sense of community, as well as promoting academic success. 
  • Be an informed consumer of anti-bullying curriculums.  There are many anti-bullying interventions, and lots of them are successful, but be aware of significant caveats.  For example, some bullies would benefit from services beyond bullying reduction.  Other programs might work well in Europe but not as well in the US.  And most anti-bullying programs haven’t yet been rigorously evaluated.  Inform yourself when investing in a curriculum.  Investigate claims of success.  Remember that  your most valuable tool is your background knowledge — your deep understanding of your students’ relationships.
  • Remember that bullying is also a problem of values.  Implement an intellectually challenging character education  or socio-emotional learning curriculum in your school.  Students must learn how to achieve their goals by being assertive, not aggressive.  Teach staff, students —  even family members — how to resolve conflicts with civility.

sole source: this content was a sidebar in Philip C. Rodkin’s article in the September 2011 ASCD magazine Educational Leadership.  Visit

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021, or email

+ Bullying: The Power of Peers

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Philip C. Rodkin wrote a version of a government report on bullying for the September 2011 Issue of ASCD’s publication Educational Leadership.

Rodkin first explains the use of the words peer and bully, which at first glance, don’t appear to belong together.  

A “peer” means someone of the same standing, a social equal. A “bully” is seizing power  in a social situation.

It’s this sense of inequality, abuse, and unfairness — and of a peer culture valuing all the wrong things — that makes bullying incompatible with the democratic spirit; all youth should be free to learn in peace and safety, making the most of their talents and goals.

Children and youth (and some adults) use bullying to acquire resources and to demonstrate to an audience that they are the ones who dominate.  This is where peers come into the picture.  Bullies can’t succeed unless witnesses play along.  If they ignore the bullying, or intervene to stop the action, the bully is deprived of his objective.

Presumably bullying at school occurs under the watchful eye of responsible adults, so how peers and adults act in response to bullying is crucial.  And it is even better if these others can anticipate the bullying in advance of the event.

Research has informed parents and  educators about the structural situations in which bullying occurs.  But more is needed to determine how to use this information effectively in making our schools a safe place for kids. 

Bullies Live in Two Social Worlds

Tom Farmer and colleagues wrote a recent article on the “two social worlds” of bullying: on one hand marginalization, and on the other, connection.

Socially marginalized bullies, they say, may be fighting against a social system that keeps them on the periphery.  Socially connected bullies use aggression to control others and garner power.

Bullies who are marginalized and unpopular are often shunted into peer groups with other bullies.  These marginalized bullies (more often boys than girls) often have a host of problems, and the bullying behavior is only one manifestation.  Bullying in their case may stem from an inability to control their impulsive actions, or it may be due to a desire to gain an elusive status. 

On the other hand, “connected” bullies belong to highly networked and integrated social worlds; they don’t lack for peer social support. 

These socially connected bullies are evenly divided between boys and girls.  They have a variety of friends.  Some but not all of those friends are bullies themselves.  These bullies strengths may  include social skills, athleticism, or physical attractiveness. 

Socially connected bullies tend to be proactive and goal-directed in their aggression.  They often have years of experience with peers, sometimes since as early as their day-care groups.

They incorporate prosocial strategies into their behavioral repertoire (e.g. reconciling with targets after conflict, or becoming less aggressive after they’ve established dominance).

Bullies who are socially connected are under-recognized as seriously aggressive.  They are frequently popularized in the media.  Of them, one group of researchers uses the words”popular, socially skilled, and competent.”

Bullying peaks in early adolescence, but the two social worlds of bullying exists through all the early grades, sometimes as early as kindergarten. 

Rodkin says

As light can be both wave and particle, aggression can be maladaptive or adaptive depending on why the aggression occurs; the time frame (that is, adaptive in the short run, but maladaptive in the long run); the consequences of the aggressive act; and one’s perspective.

Educators and parents need to ask of any bullying situation why the bullying works — from the perspective of the bully.  It is necessary to establish what goals are being served by the bullying behavior: they will differ for each child in each different situation.   

The Bully-Victim Relationship 

Criminologists always establish first the relationship between any victim and the perpetrator.   In any bully/victim situation the question is rarely asked.  We know very little about what is built in to any bullying event.

The focus has traditionally been on identifying “bully,” “victim,” and “bully-victim” categories. Time is spent determining such things as “prevalence rates,” and “behavioral characteristics” of bullying incidents.

Bullies and victims therefore are put into separate boxes, and their separateness is spotlighted.  The implication is that there is no known relationship between a bully and a victim — that the targeting is random.

But the reality is more complex.  Bullies and victims often have a previously existing relationship that lead up to the incidents. 

If these facts had been made clear, knowledgeable adults might have been alerted to the trouble spots.

Reciprocated dislike or animosity is one clear predictor of trouble.  Potential bullies  — particularly socially connected bullies — turn their angry thoughts into aggressive behavior.  The direct that behavior then toward low-status peers whom they already dislike (and who almost certainly dislike them as well).

Time frames can be  predictable.  Socially connected children choose same-sex bullying as part of their struggle for dominance, particularly in the beginning of the school year, or between transitions from one school to another (when the social hierarchy is in flux) and it is easy to target unpopular children.

In a disturbing number of cases, aggressive boys harass girls.  Sixty percent of 5th to 7th grade girls in one study reported being bullied by boys.  Unpopular, rejected, aggressive boys are most likely to harass girls. 

In another study, 38 percent of girls who experience sexual harassment “say they first experienced it in elementary school.”

Socially connected bullies tend to demonstrate within-sex bullying and dominance behavior against unpopular targets.

“Bullying is a Social Event”

Studies show that even one good friend can help assuage the harmful consequences of harassment. 

Adults should be aware that in addition to implementing violence reduction therapies and social skills trainings, social ties of marginalized bullies should be spotlighted.  Broaden these networks, where feasible, to include a greater variety of peers.  

Rodkin says he refers to socially connected bullies as “hidden in plain sight.”  Because these types of bullies affiliate with a wide variety of peers, there is an unhealthy potential for widespread acceptance of bullying. 

Debra Pepler and colleagues call this the “theater of bullying,”  which encompasses not only the bully-victim dyad, but also children who encourage, reinforce  and silently witness the abuse. 

Pepler says “Bullying is a social event in the classroom and on the playground.” In almost 90 percent of observed cases there was an audience of peers.

This silent, mocking audience grows exponentially, in frightening anonymity, with cyber-bullying.  Thus the problem of bullying is also a problem of the unresponsive bystander, whether that bystander is a classmate who finds harassment funny, a peer who sits on the sidelines afraid to get involved, or an educator who sees bullying as just another part of growing up.

One report finds that socially connected bullies target children who will likely not be defended. 

Peers who do intervene in bullying can make a real difference.  While studies show that a defender may be  successful in more than 50 percent of such attempts,  bystanders appear to stand up to the aggressor in only 20 percent of incidents.

In addition

[o]ne good friend can make a crucial difference to children who are harassed.  Victims who are friends with a non-victimized peer are less likely to internalize problems as a result…for example, being sad, depressed or anxious.

Even 1st graders who have a friend but who are otherwise socially isolated seem to be protected from the adjustment problems that other isolated children may suffer.

Surprisingly, one study found that intervention which involves peers (using students as peer mediators, engaging bystanders to disapprove and offer support to the victim) were found to be associated with increases in victimization.

In fact of 20 program elements included in 44 school-based programs, work with peers was the only program element associated with significantly more bullying and victimization.  (There were significant and positive effects for parent training and school meetings in reducing bullying.)

For peer mediation to be effective, students who are chosen to be mediators should probably be popular and prosocial.

The most innovative, intensive, grassroots uses of peer relationships to reduce bullying (one is the You Have the Power! program in Montgomery County, Maryland) have not been scientifically evaluated.  This work must be undertaken.

Teachers should ask what kind of bully they face when dealing with a victimization problem.  Is the bully a member of a group?  Is he or she a group leader?  How are the bullies and victims situated in the “peer ecology”?

Educators who exclusively target peripheral, antisocial cliques as the engine of school violence problems may leave intact other  groups that are more responsible for mainstream peer support of bullying.

Educators should periodically talk with students and ask about their social relationships and whether bullying is present.

Charles Payne makes the point in his book “So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools,” that even the best, most rigorous and most validated intervention may not be successful: weak social infrastructure and dysfunctional organizational environments must also be taken into account.

The task ahead is to help educators recognize, understand and help guide children’s relationships.  We must determine ways that bullies and the children they harass can be folded into the whole social fabric of the school.

With guidance from caring, engaged adults, youth can organize themselves as a force that makes bullying less effective as a means of social connection or as an outlet for alienation.

sole source: Philip C. Rodkin’s article in ASCD’s September 2011 issue of Educational Leadership.  Visit

The full report from which this article was taken was commissioned to be presented to the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, which met on March 10, 2011. 

The conference brought together President Obama, the first lady, members of the cabinet, as well as youth, parents, researchers, school officials and other groups.  The goal was to craft a national strategy for reducing and ending bullying in schools.

tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021 or email