When I pick my son up from school I always ask him the same question, “How was school today?” This is always answered the same way, “It was good.” When I ask him to expand on his answer he will tell me about all of the academics he worked on, what therapies he went to, and whether they had PE, computer lab or went to the library that day. It’s a fine answer, but not really what I’m looking for. My follow up question is always, “Who did you talk to today?” For the last few months this has been answered with, “Nobody.” Really, you went the entire day without speaking to anyone? “Well, a couple of kids said hi to me, so I said hi back,” he would reply. That’s it!!!
At this point you might be thinking that he must be getting bullied and he is hiding from everyone. Happily, that is not what is going on. He is actually very well liked by the other kids and from what I have seen they go out of their way to protect him. My son is in the 5th grade and the boys all want to play sports at recess and lunch. My son hates sports, except for swimming, and he would rather do nothing than risk getting hurt playing with the other boys. Part of his IEP includes socialization goals and he sees a recreational therapist and speech therapist to help him achieve these goals. Earlier in the year they had taught him strategies to involve himself in the games even if he is not playing. These strategies lasted a couple of months and then he started isolating himself again. He knows how to utilize these strategies but doesn’t really seem to want to.
He also has a language disorder and the last standardized test he took for social language showed he is years delayed and in fact was ranked in the 0.1%. This means that 99.9% of children his age score higher than him in social language. When he does talk he tends to talk about subjects he wants to talk about. Sound familiar???
A few weeks ago I made a deal with him. I told him he had to go into School that day and ask anyone of his classmates how their weekend was. After school he excitedly ran over to tell me he accomplished his mission. I then foolishly asked him what his classmate had done that weekend. He looked at me confused and said, “I don’t know, I wasn’t really listening.” I had only told him to ask, not to listen.
No matter how hard we all try to get him to socialize he seems happy to play by himself. It wasn’t always this way. In kindergarten he met his first true love. You know a love so great it could only happen to a 5 year old. My son and this little girl were inseparable for the next two years. Even the year they were not in the same class she made a point of bringing him a special valentine on Valentine’s Day and walking to his class to bring it to him. She accepted my son for who he is and interacted with him on his terms. Unfortunately, she changed schools after the second grade.
He is now in the fifth grade and while he calls many of the kids his friends he really hasn’t bonded with anyone. There are no play dates, phone calls or texting going on with anyone from school. You would think this would make him unhappy but it’s quite the opposite. He seems to be one of the happiest kids around and is always smiling and laughing. He just has his own agenda and no one can change his mind. At least I don’t have to worry about peer pressure!!
He does have play dates but that is mostly because my wife and I created a close knit group of friends that all have children his age. That means when they come over to the house, or vice versa, there are kids for him to play with. He has known this group of kids since preschool and I would consider this group to be his closest friends but unless we bring it up he rarely, if ever, asks to do anything with them.
We have recently told him he can no longer play by himself at lunch. This has forced him to start interacting with the other kids and he has started to play volleyball with them. Based on his description this means he stands on the court and every once in awhile they let him throw the ball over the net. As I mentioned earlier the other kids really seem to like him and protect him. I just wish he would form a real connection with one of these boys. I’m still not sure he is really interested and I’m pretty confident he would still be playing alone if it was up to him. In the meantime I find solace in the knowledge that at least I know he is happy.