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Two 8 year old learning disabled students were in my office and asked if they could play checkers while we talked. I said 'sure' and gave them a checkers set. While they were setting up the pieces I got a phone call.

In the midst of the phone conversation, I noticed that they were both staring at the board and checkers men, without moving a piece!
I hung up the phone and saw them still staring at the board with perplexed looks on their faces. I then noticed that one student had his pieces on the black squares and the other had her pieces on the red squares! I pointed this out. They laughed, corrected the men, then proceeded to play.

I soon realized that what happened on that board of 64 squares was a metaphor for the challenges our students face in connecting with each other at school. The challenge is to establish appropriate SOCIAL CONTACT. But it sometimes seems that children can't connect in life because they are playing on different 'squares.'

Rather than making contact on a simple two dimensional board with black and red squares and a few simple rules, students try to learn to navigate the complex world of their own social milieu and its norms. The 'game' of social interaction is three dimensional and exceedingly complex. The game's principles are many, they are subtle, nuanced and not overtly agreed upon. The possible number of combinations of social relationships in the hundreds--each unique.

When students join a social system, they must learn to CONNECT with each other. They must open their eyes, ears and minds and learn what the unwritten rules and norms are. Sometimes these rules are not verbalized but are intuitive, requiring strong social intelligence, which, of course, is weak in many learning disabled, emotionally impaired and autistic children. Sometimes anxiety, ego-centrism, cognitive deficits or disabilities get in the way. Some students have trouble discerning the rules. Some students 'move' without any meaningful planning. Others are better at moving than at processing the implications of their partner's 'move.' Many do not stop to consider the 'board' either literally, as in checkers, or figuratively, as in the parameters of communication.

But the goals of checkers instruction and social skills instruction, are similar. We want to help children to understand the effects of their speech and their language on others. We want to help them understand the subtle and overt norms of behavior. We want them to see the importance of social rules and how they serve all parties. We want them to appreciate and respect the feelings and perceptive of others. (In checkers, all our students know that the winner offers the loser a handshake and congratulations at the end of the game.)

If we can work to agree upon the rules and respect the rules and respect all players, we will find not only that we are playing on the SAME COLOR SQUARES of life, but that the game results in learning, enrichment, growth and increased social intelligence for all players in the 'game' or world of social relations.

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