Loner Land

Our move back to Massachusetts and into a fantastic school system was absolutely the right thing to do. Especially for Joe. We are one month into the new school year and his teacher has already opened the lines of communication. It was an email response to a writing assignment she’d given to the parents in Joe’s class. Her response to my writing assignment titled The Care and Feeding of Joe Faherty, was, “I am wondering if Joe continues to see a therapist?”

It was a great question. One that tells me she’s paying attention. That she sees what I see and despite a fantastic summer filled with confidence and lively discussions with other children, Joe is having issues in the classroom again. It was a message that I found both encouraging and heartbreaking.

I’ll be completely honest, I knew this would happen as soon as he began the new year, but I didn’t want to be pessimistic. He did so well over the summer. He walked into camps in our new town with such confidence and came out of one with a firm “job offer” for next summer. That camp leader was so impressed with his patience and great attitude, she hired him to be her helper and has already arranged it.

During his stint at Ocean Ecology Camp, I watched him walk into a group of boys who fist-bumped him their good morning greetings. At the time, I sat in our mini-van and nearly cried with happiness over those fist bumps. At the beach, he gave impromptu talks about horseshoe crabs to groups of children and their grown-ups. He was awesome – holding up those prehistoric looking creatures and answering excited questions.

And then school started.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a happy guy. He gets on the bus with smiles and hugs in the morning and in the afternoon, reaches for my hand as soon as he exits. He holds on for the duration of the walk down our new street and doesn’t care who sees. I love holding his hand, it’s almost as big as mine now.

I tried to capitalize on the confidence he developed over the summer. When school started, I eased him into the social scene with daily challenges. Things like, Today you should try to have a conversation with someone new, or, Ask someone three questions and tell me what you learned about that new friend. He was hesitant, but he played along. And then one day at breakfast I said, “Trade telephone numbers with a new friend.”

Bad idea. He began to squirm uncomfortably and poked at his egg.

“Um…maybe I could wait a while. It seems too soon…I need to get to know people better.”

No amount of support or encouraging words will sway him. By now, I’m hearing all of those familiar cues that he has one foot back in Loner Land. His table mates are frustrated with him for not transitioning quickly enough, “This one girl takes “line-up” way too serious.” He doesn’t sit with the same kids at lunch – meaning, he hasn’t made any connections with another kid.

How is it that this kid who is gregarious and loving and so very smart at home is an entirely different person at school? How do I fix it? How do I make sure he’s a happy and well-adjusted human who has friends and some social involvement when he doesn’t show other kids he wants to be involved?

It’s time to find a new therapist.

Amy True 016


  1. All the things that happened this summer that were positive are STILL positive. Those are huge strides in the right direction. It’s not uncommon that those things don’t translate into the classroom, a more regimented, scheduled setting. A new therapist is a great idea and I’m glad you have a teacher that is paying attention.

  2. I’m in complete agreement with Colleen, her comments are spot-on!

    Joe did indeed have a good summer, one that built-up a positive foundation for his continued progress. Now, with your move and a new school, I’m sensing that Joe is proceeding with caution, following his own personal agenda as he adjusts to the changes.

    The interaction between a therapist and their patient can become tired, unproductive even. If Joe’s teacher asked about this situation, to me, it’s enough reason to make an immediate change in this department.

  3. I’m sorry you are having to experience this feeling again after letting yourself get excited about his accomplishments over the summer. As I’ve told you in the past, I know this feeling all too well.

    JOE = EVAN

    Can I tell you a few things I’ve learned over these last 12 years now that Evan is a senior?

    Joe is going to evolve into something great no matter what you do or don’t do for him socially.

    I had Evan seeing a counselor in grade school. She gave him tools to use while in school. Most of them made him feel more socially awkward. Like the big red cut out of a stop sign taped to his desk that only he possessed, so that when he felt “squirmy” he could look at it and remind himself to not squirm. Seriously.

    Looking forward seems like an uphill battle you will never get the best of. Looking back, I see that Evan was always a typical (I don’t use “normal”) kid, just unique and gifted. And I’d much prefer him this way. Kids are all born with a social skill set that may or may not conform to “social norms”.

    I truly admire him for his strength to BE HIMSELF and not want to be like everyone else because I didn’t have that strength.

    Evan doesn’t succumb to the teenage like-mind thinking. If one dresses like a thug, they all want to dress like a thug. He doesn’t get sucked into teenaged drama, hallway fights and name calling. Smoking and drugs? He thinks they are all killing themselves, as he eats his pescatarian diet, drinks his hot tea, while practicing his Japanese in his room.

    Kelli, we are truly the blessed ones. We have been given the best gifts ever. The diamonds in the rough. The overachievers and the talented. We need to stop wondering what is “wrong” socially with our kids and accept them as they are. The leaders, the trailblazers and the brains of the future.

    Hindsight is 20/20 and I so wish I had all the time back that I worried, pushed him to be more social and made him join sports teams that made him feel more socially isolated.

    I just hope that I never made him feel less than, like I was disappointed in him for being different.

    Remind him about how proud you were of his growth over the summer because that’s what really matters! That he was comfortable in his own skin and took charge when it was something he was interested in.

    The day I read this quote I was changed forever.

    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” -Albert Einstein.

    When I let go of my fears and worries about his social issues, I was able to enjoy this really cool kid whether anyone else could see it or not.

    I’d be lying if I said I don’t still worry because I do. I just don’t let him know I worry. Because then he’s back to thinking there’s something wrong with him and he COULD NOT BE A MORE PERFECT SON.

    Now that he is a senior I have all this new-to-me paperwork to fill out and one is a senior autobiographical record that includes a parent “brag sheet”. It has only about 10 lines to write on and I instantly though “that’s it? Well, I’m just going to have to type it up and staple it to the back” lol.

    Love and hugs Kelli!

  4. Kelli, if you had stayed in Gorham I believe we would have hung out A LOT! I really resonate with this and the validation is priceless… Jodi’s comments are brilliant, or should I say genuis! 🙂

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