Sometimes it is weird how you will look back on certain times in your life and see the struggles you had quite clearly. But at the time, you are simply so in the moment that you don’t really realize just how tough it was. I will use the example of how we handled the socialization at school.
When your child has special needs, their road in life is unique. Filled with milestones that occur on their time frame. One of the huge milestones in life is the biggest social scene called school, be it preschool or Kindergarten.
Elizabeth, as many know, has Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD and Global Dyspraxia. Both conditions affect her ability to:
- Interact with peers,
- Be comfortable in public situations.
So, how to begin?
WITH THE TEACHERS
When we entered Elizabeth into her first preschool, we made sure to inform them of her disorders, giving them examples of how Elizabeth might act when overwhelmed or frightened. But what we did not do was work with Elizabeth on how to act or behave. I think we were so darned proud of the fact that she was in the preschool and wanted to be there and was happy to be there, that we allowed the teachers and staff to help us learn the ways this thing called preschool worked. We learned to work with the teachers and truly, the pressure was off here as she was still so young.
We began to see just how social Elizabeth was when she entered her Pre-K program. Here things got a bit more serious as they did:
- School work,
- Gym class,
- Participated in stations for learning,
- Prepared them for entry into school.
I think this time was so fun for Elizabeth, she loved being with the other children, but her language held her back a great deal. It was here that we began to really rely on the teachers to encourage interactions and friendships inside the classroom. Again, it is important to remember that we told them all about Elizabeth which is something that can never not be done. But we also found ourselves asking about these buddies and friendships. It is hard to watch typical interactions taking place around you when your child is not capable of those things. But I offer out, that sharing your thoughts and feelings with these teachers can help tremendously.
How to continue?
WITH SOCIAL STORIES
We started reading social stories to Elizabeth, started discussing them with Elizabeth. For children with special needs, it is the repetition and frequency of things that helps them process information. So with that in mind, we read the stories often.
We would at times:
- Adapt them to her situations at school,
- Write ones to fit her needs,
- Write funny ones to help make a point.
These stories are a wonderful springboard for a discussion (be it more one way than two way due to Elizabeth’s speech delays). But the ideas and thoughts start to flow and that can never be a bad thing.
What to do next?
MEET UP WITH A FRIEND
Sure I could mean you meeting up with a friend to vent, but in this case I mean a friend for your child. J Yes, as much as this may send a cold wash of fear over you to read, it is something that we did at an early time. It was not easy, it was not relaxing, but Elizabeth was happy to have the time with a friend. Sometimes it went so well and other times I was hyper-aware of how uncomfortable the whole situation was.
But we tried it again. And we talked about it after the time was done. And we talked some more. All of which helped Elizabeth grow.
How to continue?
TALK, TALK, AND WHEN YOU ARE DONE … TALK MORE
The thing about social stories is that they are neat, tidy and everyone says everything just right. These are helpful and needed stories but I will say from vast personal experience, that never, not one time did something go just like a social story says it would. There would always be some renegade person who would be in line at the store and instead of saying what the script said they would, they would say how pretty Elizabeth was or ask what grade she was in and then all bets were off as to the responses from there.
So as tough as those early socializations were, we learned that:
- Talking through the experience helped Elizabeth learn for the next time.
- Talking through what was good helped reinforce positive thoughts for the next time.
- Talking through events helped me be able to share my feelings and thoughts with Elizabeth and helped her understand her feelings as well.
Talking, in my opinion (ask my family) has always been a good thing! Never underestimate the positive things that can come from spending time together talking and sharing.
So how to conclude?
THEY CAN ACHIEVE
Socialization is one of those things that you are part of, that you have grown with, and that you can continue to make gains with. If you think about it, we are all never done growing in social ways with how we wish to present ourselves in certain situations, when making a presentation or even how to handle a disagreement. So our children are simply growing as well. We need to be there to help them take the next step that others take automatically.
- Use examples of everyday experiences to help them.
- Encourage expressions of any emotion.
- Praise them for trying.
- Encourage them if they fail.
- Let them know you believe in them, always.
I wish you all some great conversations be them, via communication boards, devices, full of short sentences or long beautiful ones … It all counts and it all matters.
Michele writes for TalkTools Blog every month about her experience caring for Elizabeth, her daughter with Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyspraxia. Follow her story since the beginning here.