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The Social Scene: In the Company of Classmates
By second grade, children should be able to wait their turn and follow basic rules of behavior. Over the next few years, they get better at interpreting social cues, feeling empathy, and considering the impact of their words and deeds. But these skills come slowly to children with ADHD. They blurt out answers and get too close to classmates. Slow language-processing skills make for trouble in group discussions. They misinterpret remarks and miss references or jokes. Out of sync with their peers, they often have trouble making and keeping friends.
WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO
- Understand that a child with ADHD may lag in social maturity - even if he keeps up academically - and adjust your expectations. Make instructions simple, and give them one at at time.
- Post rules and expectations for proper behavior. Clear guidelines remind children to respect everyone's space, words, and ideas. Some teachers use rewards and consequences to provide extra motivation. Visual and tactile boundaries - such as carpet squares on the floor for meetings, or place mats on a group desk - can help children respect personal space.
- Arrange positive small-group experiences. When the class breaks into work groups, pair the ADDer with good role models. Assign each pupil a task: In a reading group, there may be a simile spotter, a reader, and a person who draws the action. With a clear goal and an assignment that plays to her strengths, the ADDer can perform as a valuable member of the group.
- Invite peer recognition. Encourage the child to share special skills or interests - reading an original story to the class, or showing his model planes.
- Develop a secret sign , like pulling your earlobe, that tells the child to stop calling out, humming, or otherwise disrupting the class.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
- Prepare your child for social situations, including the first day of school. Give him the words to say when meeting someone for the first time, and reminders about appropriate behavior. If you observe positive behavior, praise it. Be specific: Say "I like the way you shared that toy with Tina," rather than, "You were good at Tina's house."
- Invent games that hone social skills. Role-play common social interactions, such as going to a party or working out a disagreement with a friend. Take turns playing the different roles in each encounter, so your child can experience each person's point of view. If he has a hard time interpreting facial expressions, make up cards that illustrate feelings - tired, bored, nervous - and take turns acting them out.
- Arrange playdates. Having a buddy at school increases a child's social standing. Plan get-togethers with classmates to forge friendships. A structured activity - such as an art project or a board game - usually works best.
- Let your child play with younger kids, if that's where she feels most comfortable. She'll have a chance to develop social skills, and she may take on a leadership role, a boost for her self-esteem.