Chris is a 9 year-old third grader experiencing a great deal of academic success. She is the best science student in her class and is above grade level in word decoding, reading comprehension, and spelling. Chris is one of the better storytellers and writers in her class. She is at grade level in mathematics, which she admits is her most difficult subject. Although mathematics is difficult for Chris, her teacher notes that she works hard at trying to improve her skills. Chris has always been motivated to excel academically in school, believing that she can and will do well.
Chris is passionate about outdoor activities. She loves to go camping and hiking with her family, but her special interest is bird watching. She has an extensive logbook of birds she has seen on her family’s camping trips throughout the United States. Chris watches every nature show on television and she most enjoys reading about birds.
Recently, her dinnertime conversations have revolved around her ideas about the relationship between dinosaurs and birds. Chris has been pushing her parents to let her organize an extensive camping trip to the Badlands where people are studying dinosaurs. Chris’ parents have voiced concern that their daughter’s passion for birds and interest in dinosaurs may be hurting Chris when it comes to making friends. Her parents strongly prefer that she go to a summer camp where she will be with other kids, pursuing activities other children find interesting like swimming, riding horses, and “just playing.”
Chris’ teacher also has concerns about her inability to make and keep friends. At the most recent teacher-parent conference, she noted that Chris seems to drift around the playground during recess. Although she can play all of the games, Chris seems unable to involve herself in the activities or to be invited to join in. In addition, Chris used to interact more with the teachers and volunteers on the playground. But recently, she has been asking to go to the library during recess, or to stay in the classroom to surf the internet for information about dinosaurs. Her teacher allows Chris to pursue these activities only when the class cannot go outside because of bad weather.
Chris’ classmates are beginning to overtly reject her. During social situations both in and out of class, Chris does not seem able to converse with her peers about topics that interest them. Instead, she always tries to talk about television shows other children don’t watch, books they haven’t read, or activities they’ve never experienced. Chris is not bossy or domineering during these attempts at interaction. Rather, the topics she brings up just don’t interest her peers, causing them to move away, and increasingly, to avoid her altogether.
Chris has a dire need to learn about both the nature of social interaction with her peers, and the particular social skills she needs to improve. She needs to learn techniques that will make her more likely to have positive interactions, as well as ways to use her strengths to enhance her social status. In addition to having opportunities to utilize new strategies in natural settings, such as the playground and cafeteria, Chris may also need a management plan that includes role playing, so she can first practice these social strategies in safe settings with supportive feedback.
Chris’ parents can be important participants. They may benefit from a better understanding of Chris’ social difficulties. It will be important to help Chris’ parents find ways to encourage her to broaden peer group interactions without pushing her into uncomfortable situations.