A lot of important learning happens at Moravia Elementary, but for some students making friends can be the most challenging and exciting part of school. Melissa Hanson is a 4th grade student at Moravia Elementary who was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder. When she was younger, she had difficulty making and keeping friends, along with other difficulties that the diagnosis brought. Melissa’s mom, Kirsten, has been an incredible advocate for providing educational information to Moravia staff and seeing that Melissa gets the supports she needs to be successful in school.
Mary Echterling, Occupational Therapist, made the connection with School Social Worker Pat Merrick to provide support for Melissa’s social skills. Beginning in 1st grade, Pat worked with Melissa on developing social skills she could share with the class, such as a personalized photo book. By 2nd grade, the social skills group grew to include other peers and the school psychologist, Jennifer Adams. Activities have included a nail-painting party, a tea party, a football party, and most recently a trip to outer space where the students brought back messages of friendship to share with their other classmates. The process of skill building included small groups with female peers and has grown to include anyone in the class who returns a parent permission slip.
When asked how she feels about her friends at Moravia, Melissa said, “The fun things I get to do with them make me want to have more friends.”
When asked about Melissa’s growth, Pat Merrick noted that she really wanted to make friends, but had a lot of difficulty doing so. She had many sensory issues that interrupted her ability to connect with others. She would follow peers around the lunchroom, but not be able to engage with them. Now, “She likes having friends AND her friends enjoy her.” Peers seek Melissa out for her play skills on the playground, as well as the cool things she brings to school.
While many students pick up social skills just by being around others, for some students it truly takes a team working together to build skills. Melissa’s mom, Kirsten, Mary Echterling, and Pat Merrick have worked with Melissa’s teachers across school grades to promote Melissa’s friendship skills and the payoff is evident. Melissa said, “I like a lot more friends and a lot more of them like me.”