Monday, September 15, 2014
Helping your child with special needs navigate peer interactions and friendship -- one mom's story
What do you do when your eight and half year old, sweet as pie, baby girl starts sobbing because her friend told her she didn't want to play with her? I'm sure you get angry, you give her a hug and you tell her to just play with someone else, right? What do you do when your child is special needs, on the autism spectrum, behind her peers socially, emotionally and physically? I don't know about you, but I shed a few tears!
This week, Little Miss M came home and told me that she was playing "Three Billy Goats Gruff" at recess. I casually asked her if others were playing this imaginative game with her? She paused for a split second and said: "No, I'm playing all by myself, I play all by myself every day". She then went on to elaborate that her "best friend" T from last year has new friends and didn't want to play with her. She explained that there are 25 children in her class and each person has a match, except for her and that there is no one else for her on the playground. I know that this is her interpretation of what is happening, I know she is not picking up on all the various social cues around her, but what she is picking up breaks my heart.
I, of course, tried to help her develop a plan. We talked about what other kids were on the playground, what else she could try. She was stuck on there being no one else she wanted to play with. While my heart was breaking for her, I was also incredibly impressed by her ability to somewhat share what she was feeling. This is a very complex skill. For the first time she didn't retreat into one of her shows, or stories. Instead she clung to me and told me how she was feeling.
It took tears, some emails, me marching into school and a lot of self-restraint on my part -- but I was able to convince her to go back to school. The school psychologist intervened and is working on plans to help Little Miss M navigate new friendships and all the changes that fourth grade has brought to her.
Pre-pubescent adolescents can be tough (as can any age). While my daughter is happy with Bubble Guppies and Peppa Pig, her peers have trouble relating as they are years ahead. I work to expose Little Miss M to age-appropriate entertainment, but truly her truthful and innocent youth is part of who she is. I do not want to make her just like everyone else, I want her to be her and be comfortable and confident with who that is. It's a work in progress.
So, what do you do when your child comes home crying from school? If you're me, you do just what you'd do if they fell down and scraped their knee. You pick them up, you dust them off, you give them a kiss and tell them they are okay and then you send them on their way to learn for themselves that are okay, but you're always there for them.
Amanda had ice cream for dinner the day Little Miss M came home crying, it helped even if it was lactose free ice cream.