J.H. asks from Moses Lake, WA on January 28, 2008
Special Needs Son Too Shy to Make Friends at School
My son is a special needs first grader. He was born with five birth defects all affecting his major organs, and requires a lot of medical attention. He is pulled out of class for several therapies, and misses a lot of school for illness. He is neurologically fine, just delayed a little still. At recess he just sits by the classroom door all by himself. It breaks my heart that he doesn't have friends. I've tried telling him to just go up to kids and ask to play, but he says they do stuff that he can't. He has limited lung capacity, so it's hard for him to run around a lot and play on the toys. I ask him what he did at school and he gets sad and say " i just sat by the door and waited for recess to be over" is there any way to help him make friends? It just makes me cry to imagine him sitting there all alone every day, watching the other kids play.
M.B. answers from Spokane on January 31, 2008
M.Z. answers from Seattle on January 29, 2008
My daughter is a kindergarten teacher and she is always pretty attuned to which kids get along and which don't. Start there, then try a short playdate.....remember that you don't have to always get along with the mother for the kids to be friends but it really helps. I'm sure your son isn't the only shy friendless kid in his class...it just feels like it to him and you.
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M.P. answers from Portland on January 29, 2008
I would ask the teacher for suggestions.
I would also try to find out who your son would like to get to know or who the teacher thinks might be a good match. Then call that child's mother and suggest a play date. I'd arrange it so that you would also get to know the mother. You could meet at an ice cream parlor or a kid's fast food place.
If that parent doesn't want to get involved try another one. The teacher may have a good idea of who would be most appropriate.
One of the reasons I think this might work is that my granddaughter took a special needs boy "under her wing" in the first grade. She has a little brother who is developmentally delayed and treated this boy as a little brother, teaching him how to play. I don't know if she did it on purpose but they sat next to each other in the classroom. Both kids are now in the second grade and the boy is doing fine on his own.
This boy had an aide provided by the school district who stayed with him in the classroom. I think an aide is provided when a child is academically challenged. The aide sometimes helped my granddaughter remain more focused with her school work. (She is full of energy but yet she did quiet things with her new friend) The experience was really good for both of the children.
I have playground duty once a week and I watched them climb up to a platform and talk. Knowing my granddaughter I suspect they were verbally playing out stories. She has a great imagination.
If your son is showing an interest in using his imagination that may be one way to help him make friends. Talk with him about who this or that child might be on the inside explaining the differences between kids and the similarities. Suggest the other kids may not know how to be his friend or might be frightened because they don't understand about his disabilities or even may just not know how to treat him. You could work out ways that he could try to be a friend and thus have a friend.
I received my adoptive daughter as a foster child when she was 7. I was impressed with some of the ways she had learned to make friends during the time she was moved from home to home.
The first week she lived with me I took her to day care (it was spring break). On her own she took a doll with her. As she entered the room she held out her doll and asked kids if they'd play with the doll. This somewhat took the attention off of her and onto a doll with which kids are used to playing.
Sometimes I see kids playing quiet games on the playground with cards or sticks and pebbles. I don't know how they are able to arrange cards because it is against school rules to bring toys from home. It is true that the quiet ones are usually girls. Girls and some boys walk the fence line looking for "treasure". I've seen them build houses for insects using whatever is available. Or they look for insects and bring them to show others. At this age boys and girls
play comfortably together.
I wonder if the PE teacher (if his school is lucky enough to have one) might have ideas about quiet games and could get kids started playing them. My granddaughter's school has a great PE teacher who is on the playground. Sometimes she gets games started. They are the active ones. I've seen her teach quiet ones in the gymn. My granddaughter has asthma and she's good about noticing when she's having difficulty breathing and slows her down.
Your son may have been shy even without the birth defects. You could look at the library or book store for books making suggestions about helping the shy child get involved.
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C.W. answers from Seattle on January 29, 2008
I don't know if this is relevant, but I'll try. My daughter was reading well at age 4, doing advanced math at 5 (I mean times tables as well as simple arithmetic) and I did absolutely nothing to encourage any of it. She was just born academically inclined with a strong curiosity and ability to find answers and learn on her own. So, this makes her a bit "special needs" when it comes to public school. I used to watch her walk around the playground alone in Kindergarten, and I quickly realized that all those games that kids play to jockey for social position, like "I'm not going to be your friend anymore; I'm only Suzy and Annie's friend now, etc etc." was completely painful and confusing for my daughter and rather than get in there and talk to her friends about it (as I would have done at that or any age) she decided to pull away from them as she currently has no interest in learning anything about it (I figure that she's somewhat delayed in her social skills and she'll hopefully learn them at some point later..she's only 8). By first grade, she had one friend in her class and another in another class but both the other girls struggled with school and I think they liked my daughter because they were paired as reading partners by the teacher with the idea that my daughter would help them out with their school work.
One day last year, I asked my dd what she did during lunch that day and she said, "well, I ate by myself because A (her one main friend) was busy with another friend. I felt so sad for her and suggested what about B, C, D, and E (several of the other seemingly smart, fun, sweet girls in her class?????? She said that all they talked about was their beautiful long hair and nice clothes and that she wasn't the least bit interested in talking about that.
That night at bed I asked her if she wanted long hair and more stylish clothes. She said, "no, not at all".
I finally realized that my daughter was happy being "different", ie not caring about the same things other people cared about, and then I realized that it is a great quality really, and I stopped fretting over it (well, I admit I still fret at times). She can seem unaffected or unconnected, but she's just connected to different things than my other daughter and I (and many people) are. She loves rocks and geology, electronics and learning how things work. We like dresses and parties and much more unintellectual stuff. Vive la difference.
Have you talked to your son about how this time alone makes him feel? Maybe he's in his comfort zone and he's not designed to be a social butterfly? If it makes him sad, I'd encourage him to be assertive about his feelings, and express them honestly to you or his teacher or another trusted person. Pain, unfortunately is part of life and I believe that as long as we have someone to talk about it with, we will be okay. As parents, it's hard to accept that our kids hurt, but remember the lessons you learned in your life and there's probably some pain involved.
That said, he may not even be as sad as you are about it, and you may find that it's all just fine for him.
All the best to you both,
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B.M. answers from Richland on January 31, 2008
As I'm familiar with this particular child, I would say that you just need to keep encouraging him to reach out. It also might help, as someone else said here, to set up play dates with other kids, but be sure that the moms know his particular situation, so she can be sensitive to it as the kids play. Talking to his teacher is good, too. She would have better insight as to who would be good for him to play with.
And as always, he's welcome over in my neck of the woods!