My 3.5 year old son gets anxious at speech therapy

by Mari
(Eastern Europe)

I have a 3.5 year old son who started talking late (borderline normal before 3) but is now right on track at home, talking nonstop in grammatically correct sentences like "I was showing my brother how the washing machine worked" or "I wish mommy was small too so she wouldn't reach the things that are on the table either" (in our native language). He's a bright inquisitive kid, really, but "the engineering kind", wants to know how everything works, etc. There are some articulation issues, though, and he stutters (not much anymore), hence the need for speech therapy.
He does just fine at daycare, does everything he's told etc, but it appears as if he wants to be invisible. Doesn't seem stressed at all, he really likes it there. So basically he's fine at home and at daycare, but not at evaluations. And it's scary, I don't recognise my own son. I suspect anxiety as DH and I both have close relatives that have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders as adults.

We've been seeing SLPs every 3 months for over a year for evaluations (which I HATE, because it's not helping anyone). #1 was perfectly happy talking to me only, and quickly shut the communication down when my son was starting to open up. So I thought maybe someone else would fit him better.
#2 was at daycare. Her first words were: "You do realise your son isn't normal, don't you?" , referring to pervasive developmental disorders and suggesting his development would regress at home. It was the first time she ever saw my son. I was upset and my son had his first "episode" - he shut down and started "drying" stacking cups, which looked rather compulsive.
I chose #3 very carefully and took time briefing her with what works best, etc. He needs to feel secure before opening up, needs a bit more time to form his answer at first but will warm up and answer quickly later on, and prefers interesting topics/activities (I feel ridiculous writing it as it seems so very natural even for toddlers without anxiety issues). Well, she did the exact opposite. Even I as a perfectly coping adult perceived the quizzing as an attack ("Where's the duck? What does the duck say? Does it say "moo"?" without pausing to hear the answer...) Again, he went blank, started putting his hands in his mouth and under my shirt, even flapping.

I'm not in denial, these "episodes" NEVER happen unless he's being forced to speak for more than 15 minutes (about things that he has no interest in whatsoever). I'd say he's reasonably compliant for his age, isn't scared to try new things, eats and wears anything...

So... What should I do? Obviously deal with my own emotions first, cooperate with daycare staff, help build my son's self confidence... Get a psychological/neurological evaluation? Try again and again and again until I find an SLP that actually listens?

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Jan 01, 2019
by: Mari

OP here. Thank you so much for your supportive answer, I desperately needed it at that point.

My son is almost 5 now.
I found an excellent SLP and my son got his tongue and lip clipped afterwards: he actually had a physical impediment that obstucted him from making proper speech sounds. He's gone miles from where we started and although some habits are hard to overcome, his speech is perfectly understandable for strangers (we're still working towards making him say things "the right way", not compensating, although others may not notice the difference). He's been "non-age-appropriately" motivated for it.

It is probably also fair to say he's gifted - in some areas in particular (his knowledge and understanding of things that are interconnected, like electronics, mechanics and the human body etc is astonishing - and he's taken an interest in astronomy lately), but perhaps generally, as well, reading/writing/adding and subtracting within... 100 maybe? etc. And his social development is right on target, as well, though he may lean towards introversion a bit.

Just in case someone else stumbles upon this :)

Aug 31, 2017
by: Speech Therapy Talk

Oh My! First things first, your child has a GREAT parent. You are very involved and wanting to help him. It is wonderful that you are seeking out help at such a young age too.

I agree with you that doing evaluations every three months isn't helping much. I also agree that it is VERY IMPORTANT to find the right SLP for your child. However, at such a young age, it can take up to a few sessions or even more to create trust for your child, especially if your child deals with anxiety.

It sounds like his speech and language skills are developing on target. He may have some issues with anxiety or stuttering or sensory processing.

I would start with a pediatric neurologist and go from there. Good luck and big hugs! You got this!

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Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech-language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series