We all want our children to make friends – not necessarily to be ‘popular’ but to at least have that one friend who understands them. My son doesn’t have that. Yet.
Back when my son was in kindergarten I was told by concerned teachers that my son wasn’t making any friends. It went further than that in fact. Full of curiosity he was usually self-involved in experimental play and other children just seemed to get in his way. At his kindy farewell I recall them playing a game. My son got to choose some children to participate with him. There he was, standing at the front and he couldn’t name even one child to join in him with him! After almost two years of attendance!! And so the teachers stepped in, after an awkward silence, and picked some children out for him.
In his entire life, coming up ten years, my son has only been invited to two five-year old’s birthday parties. In his primary school years, again and again I see party invitations getting handed out at school, but bypassing my boy. He has only ever been invited on a playdate ONCE. I have had a few different boys come to play at our home on occasion, but it seemed this was one-sided. I know many mums work full-time, so try my best not to overthink this.
These days my son says he has friends, and there do seem to be more boys that say hello to him at school. But I do know of a couple that do not see his friendship reciprocally. When someone else’s child tells you “I think your son thinks I am his friend, but I am not” it is heartbreaking. How do you reply to something like that?!
My son’s default at playtime and lunchtime at school is to read a book. However, when I ask him, he says he’d prefer to be playing with friends. Outside of school, he prefers to hang out with his mum at home, rather than attending clubs and camps.
The problem is, he lacks social skills. His conversations are usually one-sided and he does not naturally pause to hear the other person speak. He even had to be taught to acknowledge a “Hello” and “Goodbye”. We prepared a social storybook titled I Can Have Great Conversations!, that outlined some of those conversation skills that kids usually just know – like asking questions, taking turns, and not talking for too long or too quickly. He is making some progress but still annoys other children to get their attention, and struggles to summarise his thoughts when speaking.
Another problem is he is anxious about what others think of him and about being understood. Being around a new group of children, for example at the start of a new school year, brings out his ADHD behaviour of impulsivity in particular. And children get hurt. He often misreads situations, thinking someone intentionally meant to hurt him when it has just been an accident. I believe this has all stemmed from the fact that he hasn’t had very many positive friendships, if any – someone that believes in him, and who thinks he is a good person – that the world is NOT against him.
Only recently have we put together the fact that he needs relationships with intellectual peers, in order to develop his social skills. Being highly gifted, him trying to talk to a same-aged peer is like the average nine year old trying to have a conversation with a two year old. You can imagine how frustrating that must be!!
My son has just started seeing a speech and literacy expert, to help with his conversation skills. His homework for this week: to use “simple” language with “younger” children. Part of me resents this. Shouldn’t we be focusing more on finding him an intellectual peer to build a friendship with? But I know that “dumbing down” his language will help him have conversations with his peers.
Still. I want him to have that one friend who understands the real him. The amazing, witty, fun and loving boy he is. One day.
He starts a second day at his gifted programme this week. So who knows – that one friend might be there waiting for him.