To conclude my focus on complex needs often found within the classroom and how they effect a student ability to learn. I focused exclusively on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), although there are many other complex needs very prevalent within school systems there is simply not enough weeks in the semester for me to explore them all.

An overview my past blog on ADHD concluded that ADHD is a chronic condition marked by persistent inattention, hyperactivity and sometimes even impulsivity. Individuals who have ADHD often have difficulties with problem solving and social comprehension, crucial for successful peer relationships. Peer relationships are one of the primary context in which children learn cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution – skills that are all critical for effective social functioning throughout our social lives, can have devastating effects to children with ADHD.

ODD is often looked at in a similar light as ADHD, ODD is characterised by ongoing patterns of anger, irritable mood, defiant, argumentative behavior and vindictive tendencies towards people of authority. These features often cause a deficit to interpersonal sensitivity and emotional reactivity, which are core features found in children with ODD. This causes issues with reading social cues and often attribute hostile intentions to other’s behavior, which is the reasoning behind their outbursts. ODD can manifest into a life time of antisocial behavior and other psychopathically tendencies, such as conduct disorder (CD). CD consist of behavioral patterns consistent with antisocial behavior and the violation of social norms and other individuals rights.

ASD, I bit different compared to ODD and ADHD, still is comprised of deficits within the social lives of those who poses ASD. ASD is a disorder which is presented in profound social disconnect, and the cause is rooted within the child’s early brain development. Social disconnect may include; unawareness of surroundings, failure to respond to sights and sounds, limited speech and language skills, difficulty playing with other children and making friends, as well as repetitive or restricted behavior that may be difficult for others to understand.

You can see an obvious trend in the negative effects complex need often entail. To summarizing my findings I found an article that consists of a meta-analysis that explores the nature of social deficits among students with learning disabilities or complex needs. The met analysis is comprised of over 150 studies that shows, on average, 75% of student with complex needs develop social skill deficits that can exclude and distinguish them from comparison groups (those without complex needs).

Although social skill deficits appear to be associated with individuals with complex needs, however there are a number of questions about the relationship between complex needs and social skill deficits that remain unanswered. Nonetheless, social skill deficits are still viewed as one among many components that constitute individuals who have complex needs.

Taking form this I see the importance of socialization, specifically in regards to one’s cognitive abilities. Reading other various blogs on social isolation and its detrimental effects, I theorize that these complex needs themselves are not the fundamental cause to a decline in cognition, but rather the failure of peer relationship or lack of socializing often accompanying those with a complex need. These individuals may be stunted in their social abilities, this may cause social rejection, which furthers their lack of social knowledge – it’s a vicious cycle. Their best bet in developing an adequate or “normal” social cognitive ability, in the case of ASD, ODD and ADHD, is to develop a healthy, successful, and productive social environment. Social cognition is a very important aspect of our live, but we learn an awful lot through socializing as well. A successful individual does not just simply having the ability to use our knowledge to construct


Kavale K. A., & Forness S. R. (1996). Social Skill Deficits and Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29, 226-237

Mundy P., Sullivan L., Mastereorge A. M. (2009). A parallel and distributed-processing model of joint attention, social cognition and autism. Autism Research, 2, 2-21

Baron-Cohen S., Leslie A. M., Frith U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21(1). 37-46

Happe F. & Frith U. (2006). The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1). 5-24

Autism Reading Room (2017). Autism: A Disorder of Social Disconnect. Retrieved form

Coy K., Speltz M. L., DeKlyen M., & Jones K. (2001). Social–Cognitive Processes in Preschool Boys with and Without Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 29(2), 107-119

WebMD (2005-2017). Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Mental Health. Retrieved from

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Sibley M. H., Evans S. W., & Serpell Z. N. (2010). Social Cognition and Interpersonal Impairment in Young Adolescents with ADHD. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment. 32(2), 193–202.

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4 thoughts on “Complex Needs and Social Cognition (Synthesis)

  1. Great blog. My last few blogs have been about social isolation and its effects on cognition; what came to mind immediately in regards to children with complex needs was the case of Genie. Genie was left alone in a basement, tied to a chair, for the first thirteen years of her life. The only interaction she received was the occasional bark from her father accompanied by a few food scraps. Genie was seriously cognitively underdeveloped when she was finally rescued from her dungeon. Genie could hardly form sentences, let alone conduct complex social interaction with people. This just goes to show the importance of social interaction in the development (and maintenance) of healthy cognition.


  2. Some research involving the socialization aspect of treating disorders such as ASD holds true to your hypothesis – healthy socialization of a child, starting as early as possible, can result in gains in areas such as IQ and social integration (Howlin, 2006). Ensuring a child on the spectrum is able to maximize social interaction and learning allows for closer functioning to “normal” standards. Additionally, it is noted that continued intervention throughout childhood and adulthood can allow for similar increases in functioning. Simply put, integration is key, and individuals on the autism spectrum, depending on severity, can achieve higher functioning through said integration.


    Howlin, P. (2006). Autism spectrum disorders. Psychiatry, 5, 320-324.


  3. Like Wyatt, your discussion of social isolation stood out to me. In my experience with children with mental disabilities, social inclusion has been greatly emphasized. What is important to note is that physical inclusion doesn’t guarantee social integration “which involves the opportunity for severely disabled individuals to participate fully in educational and community environments with nondisabled
    persons” (Eichinger, 1990). One strategy for structuring positive social interactions between disabled and non-disabled individuals is a cooperative social situation where there is “a positive
    correlation among the goals of the individuals”, meaning that in the situation, all individuals have the same goal, rather than individual goals or competitive goals (Eichinger, 1990). When tested in a study, Eichinger showed that children participating in a cooperative social interaction responded better than children in a competitive social interaction. This supports the idea that “trained, nondisabled peers can facilitate the development of certain social interaction behaviors that may be best learned from other
    children, as opposed to adults” (Eichinger, 1990). So it seems that while children and adults can participate in the exclusion of children with disabilities, through training and awareness, children can create the opposite effect and increase the social inclusion of children with disabilities and therefore assist in their social development.

    Eichinger, J. (1990). Goal structure effects on social interaction: Nondisabled and disabled elementary students. Exceptional Children, 56(5), 408-416. doi:10.1177/001440299005600504


  4. Intresting read!
    My son Teddie has complex needs and not verbal. We are waiting for him to be assessed for ASD, We have been waiting for nearly a year to be seen and have no real help from professicionals. I have taught him to comuuitcate using PECS which has helped so much


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