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.
- Excellent academic skills
- Adequate social and conversation skills with adults
- Ability to play most games on the playground (adequate gross motor functions)
- Detailed record-keeping skills (bird watching logbook)
- Library and computer research skills
- Birds and bird watching
- Camping and hiking
Areas in Need of Improvement:
- Selecting conversational topics that her classmates might like
- Presenting her topics in such a way as to increase peer interest
- Getting more involved in playing with other children during recess
Possible Management Plan:
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.
Leveraging Strengths and Affinities:
- Allow Chris to use her excellent academic and library/computer research skills to help others, for example, by developing science study guides that her classmates may use to prepare for tests.
- Ask Chris to work with younger students or students who are struggling in school.
- Have Chris collaborate with a teacher and another student or group of students to select topics and develop materials to put up on class bulletin boards or school displays.
- Encourage Chris to form a Science Club so that she can interact with peers who share similar interests. Occasionally, allow the club to meet during the day to increase the number of interested students who might participate, and also to avoid adding to after-school demands on teachers.
Accommodations and Interventions:
- Teach Chris verbal statements or non-verbal techniques for greeting her peers to enhance the likelihood that she will be included in games and conversations. For example:
“I see that you can use one more player, and I don’t mind being on the other team.”
“It looks like you don’t need any more players, so why don’t I keep score?”
“I’ll help you with that problem first, then you can help me find some information about what T-Rex ate.”
- Help Chris come up with her own statements and strategies, and give her time to practice them through role play, before using them with her classmates.
- Provide Chris with indirect techniques for starting interactions, so it will be less obvious to other students that she is trying to interact. For instance, Chris may use statements such as:
“We only have one pair of scissors left, so why don’t we sit at the back table and share them while we work.”
“There are only two of us who want to play kick-ball, so I’ll be on one team and the other person can be on the other.”
“Let’s work together on this bulletin board about flying, since I know so much about birds and you know so much about airplanes.”
- Allow Chris to maintain some social contact with adults in her life, but encourage her to interact with classmates using the language of her peers, even when she is discussing interest areas about which she is very knowledgeable.