As part of a child’s first speech evaluation, I meet with the parents to learn more about their child through their eyes. The meeting is technically an interview although my intention is to make it more of a conversation as the parents answer an array of questions such as “what is your child’s favorite activity?” to “how does your child tell you something.” I very much enjoy getting to know the parents, hearing their concerns and expectations, creating a bond since we are a team in helping their little one. I must admit that there are times when our “first team meeting” is a little uneasy. The meeting goes something like this…
Mom on the edge of her seat…wringing her hands…her forced smile is keeping her tears welled up in her eyes. She is anxious to tell her story. I see her FEAR.
Dad sits down in a huff…folds his arms in a DEFENSIVE manner…lowers his chin while raising his one eyebrow. I can see he is QUESTIONING.
Mom answers each question quickly while handing me typed up observations along with her child’s developmental milestones. She provides over information out of FEAR as she tries to overcompensate for the DEFENSIVE behavior her husband is displaying.
As Mom describes with great praise what their child is achieving developmentally on or ahead of schedule and with concern, mixed with sadness, what their child is not doing developmentally Dad frequently interjects. With a clinched jaw he states, “The child’s stubborn.” I can feel his DENIAL. With a shocked look he says, “He/she will grow out of it” and “My mother told me I didn’t talk until I was 5 and I can talk now!” I hear the anger in his statements that are text book MISDIRECTION.
I understand and sympathize with the yin/yang dynamics of these families during what can be an emotional time as they come to terms that their child needs help. I am married to a concrete thinking, black/white with no-shades-of-grey-kind of guy who requires research and data…pure and simple. I can immediately recognize and relate to this parent personality from the second we shake hands. I respect their perspective. I know that in time, their child’s success in working with me will be the concrete evidence that this parent needs to open up to therapy. In fact, I have coined an affectionate term for this parental genre as the “non-believer.”
Take a moment and visualize once again the meeting I described above. The parents’ body language, vocal tone and attitude towards speech therapy are polar opposites but what they may not realize is that they are bound by the same emotion…FEAR.
For believers, fear comes from intuitively knowing that something is wrong with your child yet unable to pin point the problem. The longer it takes to get a correct diagnosis, the more likely that fear (and hours of googling symptoms) manifests into the “worst case scenario”. For non-believers, fear comes from the feeling powerless that they, alone, cannot find a solution. Non-believers are fixers. They get deep satisfaction and validation from problem solving. By agreeing to therapy, they believe that they are admitting out-loud, to a total stranger, that something is wrong with their child and they cannot fix the problem alone. Non-believers come into our first meeting angry/upset that they cannot solely fix their child’s speech issue. They believe that family fixes family problems…not an outsider, and definitely not a therapist!
As I speak to this family, I see their FEAR, DENIAL, MISDIRECTION (i.e., top 3 non-believer reasons) but I also see their deep love of their child. It is this universal love that opens the door to HOPE which is the catalyst for positive change. After years of experience as a therapist, I have seen the concrete evidence that positive change is possible through speech therapy. Speech therapy integrates the core foundations of child development, linguistics, anatomy/physiology, phonetics, speech science & child pyschology with the child and his/her team (the therapist & the family). Together positive change is not only possible but probable.
So how do I “convert” the non-believer to a believer of speech therapy?
1. Education- I empower my parents with knowledge and include them in every step of therapy. I also explain the theory and rationale for each goal and activity. I answer the common question of “why am I paying “good money” to watch my therapist blow bubbles or play Candy Land with my child?” with specific reasons/theories as to how it will help their child.
2. Practice- Non-Believers understand that practice makes perfect so I give them the tools to encourage practice at home. I model in therapy exactly what I want the parents to do. I always give homework but not to worry, I am a busy working who is fully aware that the bewitching hour (4-7 pm) is hard enough so I will never ask my families to do anything I couldn’t feasibly do.
3. Progress- Yes, this is final stage of cross over. This is when the non-believer parent sees the concrete evidence that the child is improving from therapy. It is truly humbling for me the first time the “non-believer” parent walks through my door with a spring in their step, asking to engage in therapy, and the folded arms and questioning looks are replaced with a smile and enthusiasm.
**this post was based on my experiences with families over the years. However the term “non-believer” can apply to either parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent.”**