Very unusual preschooler

Discussion in 'Early Childhood Education Archives' started by Bernard, Feb 20, 2006.

  1. Bernard

    Bernard Companion

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    Feb 20, 2006

    I have a child that I am working with who presents a totally new situation for me. She is a preschool-aged runaway who was picked up with an eight-year-old sibling. The pair were found living in an abandoned barn - no heat, no plumbing, etc. The older sibling told authorities that they had been living there since summer.
    There is evidence of severe past abuse of both children.

    They are in therapuetic foster care now. The little one refuses to speak to adults, and rarely speaks to her sibling - and then only in whispers. She seems to have taken a vow of silence to avoid being sent back to her parents. We were able to get her name & age (4) from the older sibling, but the little one won't tell us anything.
    She seems well-behaved, well-mannered, aware, kind & gentle. She'll nod in response to questions, make eye contact, and smile, but she is very resistent to being touched or to having her space invaded.

    She is clearly very intelligent. She seems to be able to read very well, though it is hard to evaluate, and is very artistic. She'll use manipulatives or blocks to make marvelous patterns & designs. She is gentle with animals, and spends a lot of time in the nature center.

    She interacts with other children very little, but will sometimes engage in non-verbal games with them or allow them to join her in making block patterns. The kids aren't especially welcoming of her. They say she's a baby, or ask her why she won't talk to them.

    There is talk of autism, but I just don't think she's autistic. She does rock back and forth sometimes and rub them hem of her shirt between two fingers, but she seems very aware of the classroom, the feelings of others, etc. She is great at following directions, but can also be very stubborn about her self-imposed boundaries. (She'll draw a self-portrait, for example, but not a family portrait. Instead, she just pushes away the materials and shakes her head. She'll attend circle time, but only by sitting slightly behind the group and against a wall.)

    I see a very gifted child with a tragic background, and I want to do anything I can to help her adapt. How can I help her adjust to preschool? How can I help her connect with other children? Is it possible to differentiate stress reactions from Sensory Disorders or autism?Has anyone else experienced a situation similar to this one?
     
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  3. JaimeMarie

    JaimeMarie Moderator

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    Feb 20, 2006

    Oh my the poor little girl. I have never encountered a child at this stage. I remember a student once that I worked with about 8 yrs ago that was left in a dark room and not taken care of until he was about 2. He was pulled out and adopted by a very loving couple.
    I think they said at the beginning he was scared of everything. They had to do everything in small steps putting her into the large group setting try having her with one or two other students in a quiet room. Let her come out of her shell. I wouldn't push at this stage.
    She needs to trust you, before she opens up. Try to find things she likes, certain books, toys, give them to her to play with. Don't expect anything from her. You don't know how it was at home. Is she still with the older sibling?
     
  4. Nanny

    Nanny Rookie

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    Feb 20, 2006

    I have a little girl that is attending Head Start for the second year. She has not said one word to me the whole year. She didn't talk last year either. I know she can talk because her parents say she talks all the time at home. The teacher in the room with me has heard her speak at the grocery store. The child didn't know she was listening. She participates in activities,yet totally refuses to speak. I even tried to bribe her Thursday. She loves hair bows, and earrings. I told her that if she would just say one word I would give her a present. She would not do it. I bought her some hair bows Friday, yet she was not at school. I could tell by the way she acted that she wanted to get something. Maybe, hopefully, keeping my fingers crossed, she will talk to me tomorrow.
     
  5. Myname

    Myname Comrade

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    Feb 20, 2006

    I would definately let this little girl feel out her surroundings at preschool. This poor child how frightened she must be inside.
     
  6. JaimeMarie

    JaimeMarie Moderator

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    Feb 20, 2006

    I have worked with a child for 2.5 yrs now and the child still uses a whisper voice. I know the child can talk at home. And I heard the child talking at the card shop one day. Now to get the voice at school!
     
  7. KimberlyBest

    KimberlyBest Comrade

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    Feb 20, 2006

    Bernard, what a tear jerking story. Poor thing. Is the older sister available to her during the day or are they in separate schools? Definitely take her in little baby steps. You may want to try various activities with the large group to see if she perks up an interest - like painting, cooking, gardening, give each child a baby wipe to clean up tables, chairs, etc. Something may interest her but if not, don't push (I'm sure you know that just seemed to go right at the end of the sentence LOL) I'm trying to think of books that might fit her situation that may help bring her out a bit. I can't imagine how an 8 year old could handle life "on the streets" but a preschooler too? WOW .. what a rough situation.

    Nanny, I suggest reading the series of books by Torey Hayden for anyone who works with children like this. Torey is a real life educator and details her experiences in classrooms with Sensory Integration Deficient children as well as those with elective or selective mutism. She is incredible. Her books are great reads and aren't "medical" or sterile, just very good! (Can you tell I love her books?)
     
  8. Bernard

    Bernard Companion

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    Feb 20, 2006

    She does not talk to the foster parents, counselors, or any other adults. Her brother has told us that she used to talk more "when she was little". (She still seems little to me!)
    Her brother is a neat kid, too, though he has some anger issues. He has been in the classroom as a special guest a few times. She seems happy to have him there, but doesn't cling to him. She'll whisper to him, but she won't answer questions for us through him. The first time, she cried a little when he left - just a few tears - but she doesn't seem abnormally distressed when he leaves. Her sense of time is very mature - she seems to know the schedule & when to expect to be picked up. She is interested in most classroom activities, especially drawing & working with clay, working with manipulatives, and helping with meals/chores. She tends to back way off when things seem very noisy or chaotic.
    I just wish I could help her relax and feel safe. At nap time, for example, she lies still & is well-behaved, but she is wide awake and rigid the whole time. I get the feeling that she is trying hard to be still either to please me or out of fear, but she isn't getting any rest at all.
     
  9. KimberlyBest

    KimberlyBest Comrade

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    Feb 20, 2006

    This is breaking my heart - I can't imagine what it's doing to yours!
     
  10. JaimeMarie

    JaimeMarie Moderator

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    Bernard it just breaks my heart. The poor little thing. I wonder if she sleeps much at all. Maybe after the other children are asleep you could read quietly to her? Something that will help her feel safe? A special teddy?
    It's hard to help when we aren't there seeing the situation.
     
  11. AMK

    AMK Aficionado

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    Feb 20, 2006

    Just take it slow she is just trying to find her place. I can't imagine what she is going through
     
  12. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Feb 20, 2006

    Oh my goodness. I'm not surprised she isn't sleeping. She has had to be alert to all kinds of dangers. Does she respond to music? Does she have something to cuddle at rest time?

    Anything you can do to keep things serene, predictable, comforting is probably the best you can do. It will take many years for her to trust again.
     
  13. Lainie

    Lainie Companion

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    Feb 20, 2006

    Wow. I was not expecting to read this and cry.

    I don't know exactly how to approach the not wanting to be touched... I know my mother had one several years ago that wanted to be in this 'bubble,' about four feet that, if you intruded into it, would send her into this horrible, heartbreaking fit. I'll try to see what she did to help and get back.

    As for the talking, maybe you could try something non-intimidating for her to maybe confide in. A class I observed had a bulletin board with an elephant on it, with its ear raised, and a stool for the kids to step on. They could tell their feelings to the elephant. (I'm making one for our Safe Place) It may encourage her to talk, even if it is to a big something or other. Or maybe a stuffed animal?
     
  14. kimrandy1

    kimrandy1 Enthusiast

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    Feb 20, 2006

    What sort of setting are you teaching in? If there is a school counselor or pyschologist available, you may want to confer with him or her. Not so much about meeting with or counseling the child, but more to give you ideas on how to reach her. If you aren't in a public school, perhaps the social services worker assigned to her case could give you a referral.

    It wasn't because of abuse, but I had a child who went all school year once without talking to me and only whispering to the other children. She'd raise her hand, I'd call on her, and she'd whisper her answer to the child next to her, who would relay it to me. Finally, one day in May, she just started talking, like it wasn't odd or anything. Summer came, and in September, she was fine talking to everyone BUT ME!!! ME, who'd spent a whole year coaxing her out of her shell...worrying about her, bringing her treats....no hard feelings, of course, lol!
    Kim
     
  15. txmomteacher2

    txmomteacher2 Enthusiast

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    Feb 20, 2006

    May I suggest that you read a book called ONE CHILD by Torey Hayden.. We had to read this book for grad school. You will find many similarities between the child you have and the child in the book. Waring though it does have some rough stuff to handle in the book so bring you tissues. THere is also a sequel to this book called THE TIGER'S CHILD. Torey Hayden's books are amazing.
     
  16. mccwen

    mccwen Comrade

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    Feb 21, 2006

    Oh wow. I don't have any sage advice, many people before me have given great ideas already. Please keep us updated about this little one and her brother. My heart aches for them. I can't imagine the things they've had to do to survive at such a young age!
     
  17. Mama Chick

    Mama Chick Rookie

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    Feb 21, 2006

    Wow! What a tough situation. My heart goes out to you and the children. I think you are doing what you can for the child by providing a consistent and predictable environment where she feels safe to explore learning and social situations at her own pace. Maybe you could initiate parallel play with her and eventually invite her to help you with your block structure ect.
     
  18. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Feb 21, 2006

    It's a safe bet that she's been shamed or even beaten for talking when someone else didn't want her to; this would be a delicate topic to broach with her sibling, but it might be worth asking. In any case, it makes sense to let her keep responding in ways that don't involve her voice. You said you think she reads; perhaps you could give her a set of simple words to use to communicate. A first-grade or second-grade teacher can probably help with some other ideas.
     
  19. Lainie

    Lainie Companion

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    Feb 21, 2006

    Also, do you have a speech therapist that works with your kids? Our speech lady taught one of our kids who wasn't talking yet (due to parents that wanted him to use sign language for some reason- don't ask me why, and that's another parent vent right there) a tap system, with a notebook with different words the teachers use all day, and the basic needs words (potty, drink, food, etc). It was more for the teachers than anything, but it worked well until he finally started speaking.
     
  20. MorahMe

    MorahMe Habitué

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    Feb 22, 2006

    Sounds like a selective mute, which makes a lot of sense considering her story...poor kid! I dealt with two last year, one who sounded very much emotionally like the one you are describing, maybe even worse. As far as I know, she still hasn't changed too much! She rarely whispered to her teachers, (even then, there was only one) and never to her classmates-after two years the school! In June, she started talking a little to her classmates, but when I went back to visit the school again last week, she seemed to be back to what she was last year. I wish I had some advice!
    The second selective mute I dealt with last year was mute for an unknown reason. She was fine with her parents, but again, she didn't speak the whole previous year. She did progress over the school year from not speaking at all, to whispering, and finally to talking in a regular voice. She was seeing a specialist, I don't know what the specialist did, but it worked! I guess you can try that-speaking to a specialist in selective mutism to help you.
     

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