My daughter M. is 8yrs. old and in second grade. She was always very shy speaking only to my husband and I, my son, her grandparents and some aunts and uncles. Today she speaks to everyone in our immediate family. In school she would only speak to her gym teacher privately. We have been seeing a therapist for over a year now. Since M. was diagnosed with SM I have read all your books and am very aware how to handle children with SM. The therapist and I are trying to educate M’s teachers on SM. I’ve been bringing her in early before any kids get in and sometimes M. will read some words to her teacher. I also taped her oral book reports for her teacher to hear. M has one very good friend that she will speak to in school. She feels very comfortable with this friend and because of her has been able to make new friends and join after school activities. Her teachers, especially the gym teacher, feel that M. is using this girl as a crutch. They want to separate them next year. I am totally against this because M. is less anxious around this other girl. I know how frustrating it is when you don’t get any communication. I think her teacher probably thinks she can cure M. by keeping her away from her friend. But I think keeping M. with kids she feels comfortable with can only help her. They seem to think she needs to have other friends. M. does have other friends she just can’t initiate friendships on her own.
My question to you is, “Should M. be separated from the only girl she can comfortably talk to?” Thank you in advance for your answer.
This is an excellent question and this comes up so often. There are a few angles to consider.
Your child DOES need to expand her friendships. You can do this NOW, in preparation for next year by using her present friend as an intermediary to build a rapport with other children. i.e, play dates. Include this other friend at first. Have a NEW buddy at school where the other child is present, but a NEW buddy is introduced more regularly and M. is paired with the new buddy for projects, as a messenger, etc. Work on communication skills with this new other friend…where questions are being asked…and M. can either answer via her present friend as an intermediary or speak directly to her by reading off a card or looking at a picture. Obviously, I do not know your child so I am not able to assess what exactly she is able to do, but these are methods of helping her to build rapport with other children.
Is your child SO dependent on this other child, and quite content that she does not have an interest in befriending another child? AND/OR
Is this other child feeling strapped or stifled due to M’s dependency?
It is common for the friends of our children to feel a bit strapped and for parents of the other child to feel this as well…and many will make the request that their child NOT be placed in your child’s class. This often upsets parents, such as yourself, tremendously because you sense the anxiety your child will have in school without having her best friend present. This is all the more reason why you need to actively work on expanding her friendships, because if the other parent insists on the separation then you are left with no choice.
ALSO, to the answer to your questions, about shouldn’t your child be placed with a friend, YES, by all means. However, in your child’s case, and based on the information you submitted to me, this is ONLY one person whom you are referring to. If you build rappport with MORE children as discussed above, then the school should place your child with at least one friend with whom she is comfortable and with whom she can speak.
Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum