Close Personal Relationships and Learning Disabilities


The link between relationships and learning disabilities is one that has been investigated a lot over the years. Mainly this has involved the attachments that children with learning disabilities develop with their mothers.

One very popular view, that is adopted by such as Dr Michal Al-Yagon, is that teenagers with learning disabilities are less likely to have developed a secure attachment with their mother than their neotypical age mates. The absence of this may contribute to behavioural issues (such as isolation, depression and aggression), as it can have a negative effect on the child’s social and emotional functioning. Dr Al-Yagon has found that more secure attachments may act as a protective factor during this developmental period. Insecure attachments, on the other hand, are a risk factor.

Research, such as this, could help with the designing of more effective intervention techniques – perhaps helping to strengthen child-mother relationships may decrease the child’s emotional and behavioural problems. This was also found to be true of attachments with teachers.


According to attachment theory, the involvement, availability and support of the parent can have a large impact on the child’s social and emotional development. Insecure attachments can be damaging, and this goes on to effect their relationship with their peers, family and even romantic partners.

Dr Yang measured the socio-economic state, as well as the security of attachments to parents and teachers in adolescents with learning disabilities to investigate this (she also measured a control group for comparison). She used questionnaires to assess the child’s attachment to their mother and father, as well as perceived teacher availability, feelings of loneliness, experience of positive and negative emotions, and behavioural problems.

It was found that in the adolescents with disabilities, secure attachments were less likely compared to those in the control group. This is likely to have a severe effect on their socio-emotional state. However, those who did show a secure attachment to their parents and teachers expressed more positive emotions, fewer feelings of loneliness and behavioural problems – meaning less interference with learning.

Closer Relationships

Using Dr Al-Yagon’s findings, clinicians can now work on more effective treatment strategies (such as family interventions that are more focused on developing a secure attachment). Perhaps treatment should focus on helping children develop closer personal relationships with their parents and teachers, in order to tackle some of the socio-emotional problems these children face.

Although the social, emotional and behavioural difficulties cannot be fully overcome, Dr Al-Yagon believes that care, and attention can really help children and teens with learning difficulties to feel more secure, and happier. “Parents and teachers of should be aware not just of academic difficulties, but also of socio-emotional difficulties — and work to treat them. They should not avoid or ignore issues such as depression or aggression, which are another dimension of the original problem”.


Written by: Philippa Berry

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Published on: 28th February 2013

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