By Alexandra Levit
The nurses at the hospital warned first-time mom Tracy that her new baby, Conner, was going to be a handful. Colicky and easily frustrated, Conner tried the patience of his parents, who did everything they could think of to appease their young son. When Conner was a year old, Tracy returned to work as a school counselor and enrolled Conner in a prestigious local daycare center in their Dallas suburb of Plano, TX. She hoped that he would continue to hit his milestones and that his language skills would flourish in the company of other kids.
But Conner struggled. Anxious that he couldn’t communicate his needs amidst the gaggle of children, Conner acted out and threw temper tantrums. Sometimes, Conner would hit other kids, and we’d get the calls no parent ever wants to receive, says Tracy. No one wants their child to be the class bully. The daycare center even went as far as to say that if Conner continued this behavior, he couldn’t stay. Tracy and her husband felt stuck. They’d tried disciplining Conner at home as best they could. What else could they do?
The solution came, says Tracy, when she started reaching out to resources around her that could help with Conner. After professional evaluations ruled out any emotional or Autism Spectrum disorders, Tracy chose a preschool with a mix of special needs and typically-developing kids. Conner would serve as a peer model.
At the age of three, Conner’s language skills had now kicked into full gear, but he still felt defeated from the years in daycare in which he was unable to effectively express himself. Conner had a tough time concentrating, and his interactions with classmates and teachers remained challenging due to his inability to regulate his emotions and accurately read what others were thinking and feeling.
Then, Tracy found a new CD-ROM from Social Skill Builder (www.socialskillbuilder.com), a company started by two sisters and speech pathologists to provide interactive learning tools for teaching social skills to children. The program, Preschool Playtime, addresses the common behavioral issues of preschoolers, offering computer-based exercises that focus on developmentally-appropriate social interactions.
Conner, who loved to use the computer, quickly made his way through each of Preschool Playtime’s five levels. In each, real-life children are presented in real-life situations: in the park, in a play group, at school, and on an outing. Conner was asked to identify a correct social behavior such as taking turns, sharing, apologizing, cooperating, maintaining personal space and listening. He was also exposed to lessons on recognizing and expressing different emotions ranging from happy and excited to mad, sad, and silly. The software, coupled with Conner’s dedicated preschool teachers and his growing maturity, has resulted in an explosion of social skills in the last year. It’s incredible, but Conner is now succeeding in a school setting, says Tracy proudly. His teachers call him a leader! I really feel that we’ve reset the compass and that he’s now moving in the right direction.
In Tracy’s house, things continue to evolve. In 2006, the family added a sibling to the mix, and Conner is developing a healthy and happy relationship with his new little brother. But Tracy has’nt forgotten the bumps of Conner’s early childhood. There’s so much going on, physically and emotionally during the preschool years, no matter what kind of kid you have, she says. You have to see your child for who he is, figure out the best way to meet his unique needs, and connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Don’t worry so much about what other people are doing. Trust your gut, that’s what parents do best!