Cava loves to do puzzles. The bigger, the more the challenge, the more he loves them. He will sit there for hours figuring out which puzzle piece connects with another. Typically, he starts with the outside pieces first and then works his way inward. While I get tired of working on puzzles rather quickly, I do love watching Cava at work on them. He is really good at putting puzzles together.
He will dump the pieces out onto the surface where he is going to work on the puzzle. It all looks like a jumbled mess of confusion. Nothing about it looks like anything. Just a pile of colors and shapes.
To put together a puzzle takes time and effort. It takes patience. Cava has that - for puzzles.
Since he arrived here just a little over two years ago, he has already put together almost one hundred of them ranging from 40 pieces to over 2,000. He has been proud of each one and always comes to get me when he's finished so I can take a photo of him with his finished work. Cava is confident in his puzzle skills. It's something that almost came natural to him. Making friends, however, hasn't.
It has been one of the biggest struggles and one of the most painful, as a parent to see him going through because there is nothing I can do about it. He has a very hard time with his social skills with kids his own age and often prefers to hang around us and other adults. I think part of this is because the adults he knows offer him encouragement and approbation.
As with many adopted children, he is developmentally younger than he is in age. Because of this, he often doesn't feel at ease around kids his own age. He is insecure and is different from other children due to his background, of which he is very aware, and struggles with fitting in and being like other kids. There have been times when he tried to make a connection and play with boys his own age at school (such as wanting to play football with them) only to be rejected. He came home hurt and wants us to play football with him so that he can know how to play in the hopes that he will one day get to play with the other boys. I'm proud of him for trying. Like in his puzzles, he is trying to put the pieces together that form friendships.
It is common for adopted children to struggle with their social skills. According to Dr. Julian Davies, these problems stem from:
- Lack of early secure attachments leading to more anxious/controlling behaviors in later relationships
- Rough and unsupervised early interaction with peers
- Poor social boundaries and judgment, difficulty reading others' social cues
- A higher prevalence of impulsivity, ADHD, and externalizing (acting out)
- Poor emotional regulation (quick to anger at perceived slights and rejection)
- Delayed social / emotional development
- Challenges in social communication and language, making it hard to keep up with the increasingly fast-paced world of their peers
As I read over this list, I could see connections to my child and the struggles he's having. But what can a parent do to help them with this?
Dr. Boris Gindis has this list:
- Understand the major causes of difficulties in social interaction
- Teach social skills and values
- Educate kids using computer games (These can be found at sites like http://www.sst-institute.net/au/parents/computer-game-pack/ or https://www.researchpress.com/books/448/being-control-bingo-game).
- Use IEP goals as a social skill tool
Dr. Davies would add to that list by suggesting that parents help children have frequent, successful play dates. This means a more structured play date with planned activities the kids will enjoy. She also stresses that, as parents, we should be there to help our children deal with the pain of rejection.
While we work with Cava on his socialization skills (including teaching him that to be a friend to somebody can often mean playing something they want to play even if you don't want to), we know that this, too, will take time. This continues to be one of the hardest areas of adjustment for him. But he wants to have a best friend. I can't help but think of Anne of Green Gables as she talks with Marilla and asks her, "Do you think I shall ever have a bosom friend in Avonlea?"
"A-a what kind of friend?"
"A bosom friend - an intimate friend, you know - a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I've dreamed of meeting her all of my life. I never really supposed I would, but so many of my loveliest dreams have come true all at once that perhaps this one will, too. Do you think it's possible?"
Like Anne, Cava longs for a true, best friend. One he can not only play with, but be himself around, feel accepted by, and share things with. I cannot wait for the day when this finally happens because it will be an answer to many, many prayers. To see him with a best friend will be like seeing one of his large, finished puzzles because all of the pieces will finally be together and a work of art will now be seen.
To read more, you can go to the following resources:
Friendship, Social Skills, and Adoption :
Advice on Socialization for Internationally Adopted Children:
Long Term Issues For The Adopted Child:
Psychological Issues Faced By The Adopted Child: