Jaimie, a child with sensory isms, has always struggled with social issues. When she was very young, she was terrified to be around other children and adults. She avoided any sort of social interaction, ran away from kids or adults who tried talking to her at the park and broke down crying if someone got too close.
We realized later on that her reactions stemmed from her anxiety about how someone might make her body feel. You see, for kids like Jaimie whose sensory issues are severe, especially in the tactile sense, social interactions are terrifying. However, that doesn’t mean we should let them avoid the world.
Through the support of our Occupational Therapist (OT), we learned that we need to create opportunities for sensory defensive children and children with other isms to be social without forcing it to happen. As parents and teachers, we need to supply the tools to help children with their social growth and development.
Find the Right Social Age
Our OT strongly encouraged me to get Jaimie out there practicing the new skills she was learning in the clinic. The problem – Jaimie was much younger socially than kids her age. Additionally, she wasn’t comfortable with children any older than her younger sister. When having your child join a social or play group, be sure to keep in mind their social-emotional age not just their chronological age.
Create the Ever Useful Social Story
Using social stories is a creative way to ‘talk’ your child through a social scenario to prepare her for what’s going to happen, how it might make her feel and supply her with strategies she can use to cope. Of course, you can’t prepare her for every minute detail – because we all know surprises come up – but you can give her the basics and prepare her for those. Social stories can be easily created with Social Stories Creator and Library for Preschool, Autism and Special Needs.
Teach “Use Your Words”
Teaching sensational kids how to use their words is one of the best tools we can give them. Sometimes, it’s so hard for them to tell us what’s going on inside, but also to challenging for them to understand what’s going on in a social situation. For example, when Jaimie is frustrated, I might say, “Jaimie, your hands are in fists, you’re hugging yourself and you are trying not to cry. You seem frustrated. Let’s talk about it!” When we connect experienced feelings to words that describe the feelings, we’re giving children the stepping stones to help themselves.
Find a ‘Buddy’
This is something that may not work with all children, but Jaimie’s Kindergarten teacher thought it would work with Jaimie and she was right. Collaborate with your child’s teacher to find a child that is on equal ground with your child, then encourage them to ‘buddy up’. A buddy system can benefit both children with their social growth and development needs. They will both benefit from a peer to share social situations with such as recess or lunch, guaranteed to have a partner for ‘pairing up’ projects in school, as well as other ancillary social situations. This system is exactly how Jaimie met her friend, Maddie. Maddie gave Jaimie the strength and encouragement to try new things, to persevere when terrified, and remind her what’s great about her – boosting Jaimie’s sense of self.
Stories about Friendship
To encourage social growth, look for children’s stories that teach about the various aspects of a friendship – making friends, keeping friends, even stories about mistakes we make in friendships. These stories can offer a clearer guide to kids with isms who are trying to figure out the whole social scene. Encourage your child to ask questions and answer them as honestly as possible.
For a child with isms, being social can be a scary thing. By providing children with the tools to practice and being there when things get tough can all make a huge difference.