In recent years, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of children identified as having normal to high intelligence, but significant deficits in their social skills. In addition to those classified with Aspergers/Autism and those who suffer from anxiety this group includes children who prefer interacting online but not in “the real world.”
Parents can become alarmed by a growing “social gap” between their child and peers as he/she enters adolescence and tries to navigate the complex social interactions of middle and high school. For kids with social challenges, parental support can make a vital difference.
The following notes focus on making the most of the social potential in your family, community and school. They are part of a brochure I’ve developed on this topic (download a copy for print) and can be used either as a precursor to or in conjunction with a more formal therapeutic program.
Planting the seeds with family and friends
Often a child’s social challenges are clear even when they are quite young but for many, it does not become evident until sometime after they have entered school. No matter what a child’s age, once social challenges are identified, parents should discuss the issue and try to be sure there is mutual understanding. This is a long term, family project.
A first step is to observe how your child behaves with peers and then to develop additional opportunities for him/her to interact. In many families with two or more children siblings provide a major portion of the child’s social life. Perhaps you can promote additional contact with the brother/sister’s friends. Even baby sitting and child care can be considered in terms of having other children around with whom your child can relate. Increasing interactions with children of the extended family, friends and neighbors is often the most basic action parents can take however it can provide a long-term help in your child developing a social network.
Again, the key is recognition by caregivers that social competence requires attention. Young children should expect that social situations are a regular and frequent part of life while knowing they can count on parents to respond in an understanding and supportive manner when they have social difficulties.
As children get older, it is appropriate to engage them in discussion about the life long importance of social competence, explaining that just as one has to work for academic success a sustained effort is required in the social arena.
The next blog entry will include a discussion of using community and school resources. You can also download a copy for print.