Marie was 9 years old when she turned to her dad during the car ride home from a birthday party and asked “Do I have to keep going to speech?”
Marie’s dad was totally floored – he was not expecting this question. Speech therapy was as much a part of the family’s routine as grocery shopping was. Marie’s parents had learned about the options for children with hearing loss when Marie’s severe hearing loss was diagnosed as a small infant and decided that auditory-verbal therapy was the best way for Marie to be able to have the choices that they wanted her to have. They reasoned that aggressive speech therapy as a young child would allow Marie to go to any school and study anything she wanted as she got older. They were sure they had made the right decision because Marie was now in 4th grade in the local public school with all the neighbors’ kids and was doing very well in academics.
Marie was thinking a few things: 1) I speak just fine; 2) I have been going to speech forever; 3) I have so many things I’d rather do; 4) I am so sick of doing the same thing forever over and over again.
When Marie’s parents thought it over – they realized that Marie was right! From her perspective – she was speaking so well and was tired of the repetitiveness of what seemed to her to be endless speech therapy. Also, she was at an age when the kids were getting together on informally in the afternoons. She felt that she had better things to do now. When she was younger she didn’t really think about other things she would rather do since she always enjoyed the speech therapy lessons.
Marie’s parents were worried that telling Marie’s speech therapist about this would hurt her feelings, since she had been working with Marie since she was in kindergarten. But they figured they’d better talk to her about it rather than have Marie think that they didn’t care about her feelings and stop participating well in therapy sessions.
Marie’s speech therapist smiled when Marie’s parents told her about their conversation with Marie. She had encountered this issue before with other children and was not shocked or hurt. She explained to Marie’s parents that she had handled this situation in a few different ways, depending on the specific speech needs of the child.
In Marie’s case, her language was at age level. Her articulation was pretty good but still needed some work. Also, she didn’t want Marie to fall behind as the school work became more challenging. The speech therapist suggested that they move to meeting every other week rather than every week as they had for years now. She also tried to get Marie to make suggestions of what she felt she needed help with. Marie was satisfied with this change and felt less pressured by therapy appointments.
Marie’s parents were relieved. They really wanted to see Marie continue to make progress in speech therapy. They worried that Marie would refuse to go to speech therapy when she became a teenager, but didn’t think that she would have a problem with it this soon. The speech therapist reassured Marie’s parents that many other children have struggled with the same issue. She had made a deal with one child to take the summer off. He needed a break and wanted to feel that he could make his own plans with friends and not have to take speech therapy into account. When the next school year began he returned to his weekly lessons and didn’t mind. Another child complained about being bored with the routine and the speech therapist recommended that he try a different speech therapist who worked primarily with adults and would have a different approach than she did. In one case the parents made an “exchange” – the child would get a trip to the ice skating rink (which he wanted very much) for every two speech lessons.
She emphasized that what was very important was to make sure that the child felt like the adults in her life were listening to her and responding to her and caring about her feelings. Sometimes the child was not at all ready to slow down the pace of therapy or take a break, but always the child was understandably in need of a change in the routine.
Since speech therapy requires the active participation and cooperation of the child, she said that parents can’t just force a child to go – it won’t work. The speech therapist reminded Marie’s parents that this is the best use of spoken language skills for the child: to negotiate for what she wants or needs, this is exactly what we are teaching them to do!