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The Gardener: Part IV

D. Himy with Zivia Reischer

“When there’s a pause in conversation, you can join in”

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

I

 



Meira: When Suri commented on my new skirt, I almost fainted.

Therapist: Now that Suri makes eye contact, you notice how beautiful she is.

Bubby: I’m finding a kindred spirit in Suri. Hearing about her therapy journey opens my eyes to my own personality and relationship with my daughter-in-law, Meira.

 

There’s nothing Suri wants more than to belong — in her family and with her classmates. Now that she has an awareness of body language, I introduce her to the concept of “joining the club” [To be part of a social circle, you need to share the conversation, interests, and/or activity. Disrupting with negative or unrelated comments sets you apart].

“Let’s say everyone is sitting around and schmoozing at recess.” I pull out some menschies and arrange them in a circle. “That’s the club. How can you join?”

“Um, schmooze.”

“Good. Shmooze about what?”

She doesn’t answer, so I prompt, “Clothes? Tests? Animals?”

“Clothes.”

“Okay. So if you want to join the club, you need to do what everyone in the club is doing.” I give Suri a menschie and she walks it over to the circle and leaves it standing nearby.

“How can this menschie join?” I ask. “What’s the club doing?”

“Sitting,” Suri says. She sits the menschie down.

I tap one figure and speak for it. “I have noooothing to wear,” I say. I tap the next figure. “I got a new skirt.” I look at Suri. “When there’s a pause in conversation, you can contribute.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“You can give feedback, like agreeing or summarizing what someone said, or you can share a thought on the topic.”

Suri speaks for her menschie: “I also need a new skirt.”

“Perfect!”

Suri looks unhappy. “So I’m gonna have to spend the rest of my life talking about things that don’t interest me?”

It’s a great question. “The point is not to talk about skirts. [We don’t want Suri to simply copy everyone else. The goal is to develop her inferential thinking and situational awareness so she can process social nuances and be truly engaged.] The point is to build a connection.”

“I can’t ever talk about what I’m thinking about?”

“As time goes on, your friends will ask about your interests.” She looks doubtful. “But here’s a great skill you’re going to like. Talk to others about their lives. How is their new baby? Does their sprained wrist feel better yet? Did they like the new book they bought? When you show interest in someone’s life, it’s a secret code for ‘I care about you.’ And that’s the way you make friends.

“The more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Pretend it’s a game and the prize is a friend. And you get bonus points, too, because the more you talk to someone about their interests and their life, the more likely it is that you’ll discover shared interests! Wouldn’t that be great?”

“The girls in my class think animals are gross.” [Another bonus is that the more socially typical Suri becomes, the more forgiving her peers will be of her idiosyncrasies.]

“But they might think gardening is cool. And I’m sure you’ll find someone who likes to sing.”

Suri’s challenges will persist for a while. There won’t be a magical transformation. But the more she invests, the more return she’ll get. As her family and peer relationships improve, she’ll be happier and more self-confident, and that always creates its own magic.

 

Take It Home

Although Suri’s personality is different from those around her, the main reason she suffered was because she didn’t know how to have friends, how to be a friend, and how to function as part of a group at home and at school. If your child struggles in these areas, here are some ways you can help:

 

Body language. Practice projecting body language that communicates that you are at ease and interested. This will make the other person feel at ease in your company and interested in you.

 

Posture Stand straight, in a relaxed posture

Turn or lean toward the person you are interacting with, or rest your chin on your hand in a relaxed but attentive attitude

Smile naturally and comfortably, not in an exaggerated or forced manner

Proximity Maintain an appropriate proximity, not too close that you invade others’ personal space, but not so far that it is awkward to engage with you

Eye contact During a typical conversation, alternate between making eye contact and looking briefly away. Sustaining eye contact for too long is called staring and feels invasive

 

Share with the Group. Join the conversation and go along with the activities others are involved in. Notice what the others are doing and model your behavior and mood to match theirs. Pay attention to unspoken rules and the body language and thoughts and feelings of others so that you’re truly integrated in the “matzav.”

 

Be a friend. Talk to others about:

-their interests

-their hobbies

-their likes and dislikes

-what’s going on in their life

Although you might not share those interests, acting with interest and concern to others will initiate a reciprocal relationship, where they’ll be interested and care about you.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 627. D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in private practice for over 15 years. She is the creator of the Link-It reading comprehension and writing curriculum for elementary school students and directs continuing education programs for speech-language pathologists and educators. 

 

 

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