People often ask a therapist providing speech therapy, “How do you go about teaching a kid to…” with any number of ways to finish that question. And although never an easy one to answer, when it comes to helping a child speak correctly, the answer often can be quite complicated as there are several variables to consider.

What is clear is that the objective of any therapy is to empower the client with the understanding, tools, and techniques to be genuinely independent.  So it can be incredibly frustrating for a parent to invest time, energy, and hard-earned money in a therapist just to see that the child cannot speak significantly different than he/she did before the therapy began.

Why isn’t the therapy working? Here are the top 4 reasons:

1. Incorrectly Diagnosing Type of Speech Therapy Needed

Often the problem begins right from the get-go.  An incorrect diagnosis is like getting on the wrong road and driving full speed ahead.  It’s much worse than going nowhere fast – you may be destroying your opportunity to help the child. This is why it is essential to have the child evaluated by an expert. You must get this right to have any chance at all at helping the child.

2. Lack of Motivation

Unfortunately, the child is often held to blame for lack of motivation.  Clinicians providing the best speech therapy understand and accept that they must learn to motivate every one of their clients, even the most difficult among them. And there are ways to facilitate this.

For example, the therapist can begin with small demands such as asking the kid to put something away or hand the therapist something, and then strongly reinforce this compliance. This can foster what is known as “behavioral momentum” which is when the teacher, therapist or parent prompts the child to small tasks that come easy and gradually upgrades their difficulty.

Secondly, the child must be guided to success. Everyone enjoys success and enjoys doing things at which they are successful, and alternatively avoid things they find difficult. Since kids naturally want to imitate the adults around them, the therapist needs to prompt the child and provide realistic models that the child can easily emulate and do successfully.

3. Unrealistic Expectations

Unfortunately trying to move too fast is an error committed by quite a few of those who provide speech therapy, and parents as well.  With the best of intentions, a parent will encourage a child to correct his/her speech whenever family or friends are around.  While innocent, this is filled with unrealistic expectations, which is frustrating and may cause the child to give up quicker.

Another common mistake is that sometimes the speech therapist is teaching a skill that isn’t possible for the child. For example, the child may not possess the motor skills to pronounce the word being prompted by the therapist. Greater success would be achieved if the movement or articulation was broken down.  Combine small victories instead of reaching too high all at once.

4. Inappropriate Homework

Those in the field of speech therapy know that the objective of homework is to expedite progress. However, this is only when it is the right homework at the right time!  And this homework should be limited to practicing skills that were previously mastered, allowing these skills to become automatic.

On the other hand, students who are still struggling with articulating sounds in the therapy should not be given homework. Also, homework should not be “the opportunity” to teach the child a new skill automatically positioning the parent as the speech therapist.  This well-meaning but incorrect maneuver could be disastrous and reverse progress already made.