I RARELY, no make that never, think that a child doesn’t talk because he’s stubborn or lazy. I get so frustrated when parents tell me this, or worse, when I hear another therapist say this. If you, or gasp, a professional, is telling you this, please re-evaluate your situation.
The truth is when kids can talk, they do talk. It makes life so much easier for them, and for you! Once they figure that out and come together cognitively (understand language), neurologically (can plan and send the message they want to convey), and physiologically (the complex processes that are physically required to produce sound), they do learn to speak.
Sometimes parents think that because a child can say a few words, he can say any word. They think he is somehow “holding out on them” when he’s “refusing” to say new words. Children at age 2 or 3 are not capable of the advanced cognitive reasoning that must occur for this kind of mental manipulation. Please don’t convince yourself otherwise. Some parents would rather see their children as “bad” vs. having a true developmental problem, and I am always confused by this approach.
This is also certainly not true with new talkers, and especially not children with specific verbal motor planning issues. They are not “not talking” because they “choose” not to talk. If this were the case, they would be diagnosed with selective mutism, and this is very, very rare.
When a kid defaults to the same word over and over in lieu of using new ones, motor planning problems (apraxia) are usually found to be the underlying reason. They are neurologically “looping” a word they can say. Default is an accurate choice of word here, because that’s what’s happened. They can’t say the new word. This is very different from they won’t say it.
Making a distinction between can’t and won’t is very different, and I BEG moms of children that I see as clients to change the way they think about this. Without even meaning to, we often treat children differently when we view developmental issues as behavioral (”He just won’t do!) vs. a true challenge for them.
When we look at a kid as he can’t do it (YET!), we try to help them and look for a solution. Often times when we think something is he won’t do it, we throw up our hands and walk away, or push and push and push to get OUR way so that it becomes a power struggle rather than finding strategies that will help this child learn to imitate and say words.
When I get a kid like this on my caseload, I keep things super fun so they WANT to participate. I model, model, model lots of single words without lots of pressure to “perform,” give lots of choices so that they are somewhat forced to respond, and I always teach signs.
These strategies, along with changing a parents’ mindset, really can make the difference with a kid who seems like he won’t talk.
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