Saturday, February 8, 2014

Soapbox Saturday: If They Could Then They Would

I don't know that I've ever mentioned that my 9 year old nephew has significant language and cognitive delays and is primarily nonverbal.  It's difficulty position to be in as a speech language pathologist-when you notice that a relative or a friend's child is not meeting the developmental milestones.  Do you say something or do you keep quiet?  At what point are you hurting the child when you say nothing.  For me, I suspected something was wrong when he was about 10 months old.  His movements were more jerky and not as fluid as you would expect.  I didn't say anything until he was about 2 1/2.  

I watched my father become frustrated with my brother-as if this could be fixed with better "parenting."  I watched my brother as he talked about how the delay could be related to the fact that his son wasn't in Daycare or hadn't been exposed to other children.  I watched as they insisted they didn't want their son to be "labeled."  

When I finally started talking, I talked about birth to three programs and then 3-5 programs.  I talked about outpatient therapy and the importance of early intervention.  I talked about AAC.  I talked about how it wasn't anyone's fault.  I talked about how this beautiful boy could remember fine motor activities once he was shown one time.  I talked about how engaged he was in people games like "tickle" and "chase."  I talked about Apraxia and Autism, Cerebral palsy and genetic testing.  

They finally got him into school and therapy when he was 7.  

Now that he is in school, he is making some good but slow progress.  He is saying a few words, and is making progress in his learning.  My soapbox post isn't about parent denial or not getting your child into services.  It's this statement his probably well meaning teacher said last year.  "He is so smart.  He could talk if he wants too but he is just stubborn."

I hear variations of this all the time:
  • He could do the work if he wants to
  • He can talk in sentences if he is motivated to do it but he chooses not to. 
  • Her language is fine she just chooses not to use it.  She could talk if she wants to.
  • He understands everything that I say.  But He only follows directions if he wants to. 
  • She can pay attention in class when she decides too. 
I'm not sure why-but I think that the idea of a willful, disobedient stubborn child is less intimidating than a child with potentially life long learning challenges. 

Just because we saw a student complete an activity one time, doesn't mean that this logic holds up.  In fact, I bet you would be challenged to find a time when this logic holds true ever.

For example:  You've seen me run a 5K.  I've run several at a pace slightly faster than a leisurely jog.

You could make the argument that I can run-therefore I could run a marathon but I'm just too lazy.  Why am I not motivated? Because running is HARD for me.  I have a hard time breathing, my face gets bright red and my feet start to ache because I have plantar facitis.  Technically I could run a marathon-but I don't because it is very difficult for me.

I think the same holds true for our students.  If they could do it easily, they would.

Here's the problem I see with making these statements to parents.   First, it may provide false hope.  I've had parents cling to this idea that their child could talk if they would just make an effort.  This makes it really difficult to move forward with things such as augmentative communication which could really prevent the child from falling further behind.

Second, since it puts the blame on the child, it makes it easier for US not to do our best job.  It's not an issue of trying a new technique or seeing what will work for this individual child.  It's their problem.  They just choose not too learn.

Finally, it may prevent the parents from seeking additional services which could benefit their child.  I'm a big believer that most-if not all-children benefit from both outpatient AND school services.  We may not be able to recommend it, but we can avoid saying things that would discourage parents from seeking out these services.  Again, I'm speaking more from experience here-my nephew could benefit from additional services.  But they have now decided that he will just talk when he is ready.  After all, he is just stubborn.  

Is this a pet peeve of yours?  What do you say when you hear colleagues or other professionals say things like this?  I'm always looking for some good replies!  If you found this post interesting-please consider sharing it by pressing on the Pinterest or Facebook buttons below.


SpeechLanguagePirates said...

How come he is just now getting into school at age 7? Why not kindergarten at 5 or 6?

still here and never going back said...

What I want to say all the time and do say some of the time is "How do you know?" And the response is oh he is just (spoiled, lazy,bad ). As I told a fellow SLP on Friday, I maybe he can't do it because he has significant brain damage!

jspeech said...

I agree with you totally. Your ideas also include parents who don't put hearing aids on their HOH children, or glasses on visually impaired children. These children are being neglected. Cheated at best out of achieving success. I have used words like "cheated out of _____. Things we can't get back". Parents have whatever reasons not to put the needs of their children first. I have tried to figure out how to break through this for my entire career. Sometimes psychologists are better at getting through. Utilize any help you can get. Good luck!!!

Speech2U said...

Fall birthday and then they did really part time the first year he went to school.

Speech2U said...

Sill here and never going back-I really like that statement that maybe they can't do it because they have significant brain damage. I think it really helps people to remember what the child is dealing with!

Speech2U said...

Jspeech-good points! I like the "cheated out of ____" statements too.

annied said...

Oh my gosh!!! That comment frustrates me to know end. My son has a learning disability and I have heard his teachers say that to me numerous time. I also had a school psychologist once say to me "She can talk, Annie!" regarding a child with selective mutism that our school wanted to place in a class for students with behavioral problems. The basis for this program is ownership of behavior, which in itself is fine, but requires the child to verbalize "I'd like to speak with you. I'm sorry for..... May I try again?" I was completely stonewalled with this decision and was effectively shut down by the principal. The student was placed in this class. This remains in my mind one of the worst decisions of our school. The mother pulled the child from the school and the teachers couldn't fathom why. "She is capable of talking you know. she's just too stubborn!"

Speech2U said...

Oh no! That sounds like a horrible placement for a child with selective mutism.

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