Setting a child at ease about speech therapy depends to a large extent on how well you can explain that therapy is a special tool to help him develop important communication skills. There are a number of measures that can help soften the transition to treatment, including introducing your child to the therapist beforehand and letting him know that lots of children are in some form of speech therapy. The more you can show your child that speech therapy is a non-threatening, non-confrontational process, the more receptive he’s likely to be.
Learning about your therapist
The more you can find out about your child’s speech therapist, the easier it’ll be to help your child feel comfortable. You’re well within your rights to ask the speech therapist about her education, professional background and licensing to make sure she’s fully qualified. These are worthwhile questions since speech pathologists (SLPs) are required to have a master’s degree and licensure in the state where they practice. Just don’t let an online program concern you as most online programs for SLPs are fully accredited.
Meeting the SLP
An SLP typically meets with the child to do an evaluation. You can set your child at ease by explaining that nothing will be expected from him but to talk with a friendly person who’s there to help. As a parent, you may be asked to provide a communication rating scale expressing your thoughts on your child’s communicative abilities, as well as his medical history. Ultimately, working with the entire family gets the best results for kids who struggle with speech issues.
If you are taking your child to a traditional clinic setting, plan on arriving at least 15 minutes early to turn in any remaining paperwork and to go over any other questions that might arise. Explain to your child in advance about the appointment and what will happen there, using positive language to put him at ease. Make sure your child knows you’ll be waiting for him following the appointment.
Children often find it difficult to separate from their parent or experience anxiety about the appointment. If your child shows signs of nervousness, talk to the therapist about the best approach for making him feel more at ease. If there’s anything in particular that will help the child get over his anxiety, such as a game or activity he’ll be playing during the visit, help him focus on that positive aspect. Remember to use simple reassuring language and explain that he’s going to a nurturing, safe place. Teletherapy is a great option for children who have trouble with anxiety. They won’t have to leave their parents, and can receive services from the comfort of home.
Young children (up to age 4) simply need to feel comfortable about the experience. If there’s a favorite stuffed toy or security blanket, feel free to bring it along if it will help. Children who are slightly older are especially susceptible to separation anxiety and may require more in-depth explanation about where you’re going and why. In some cases, it can help to equate the visit with a trip to the pediatrician’s office for a routine check-up, something with which your child is familiar and to which he can relate.
Kids in the 9 - 11 age range are likely to have more questions for you. Encourage their questions and answer them honestly without raising any unwarranted concerns. Kids who are slightly older may find it comforting to have a book to read or a note- or sketchbook and writing or drawing implements in hand prior to meeting with the therapist. Frank and open conversations with your child are always beneficial, and should be encouraged because it’s how your child will begin to process the experience.
Your presence throughout this process, from evaluation to treatment, is key. Your child needs to understand that seeing the speech therapist is a no-pressure situation and that he won’t be tested, challenged or judged. Most importantly, make sure he understands that the therapist is his friend and there to help him.
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