It’s a typical scenario. After around six or seven sessions the child will announce to the teletherapy clinician, “You know, I am really happy that I started teletherapy. I have been so ashamed at the way I talk for so long. Now I don’t mind it as much. I enjoy talking to my friends. I wish I had started sooner!”
A Child’s Shame in Receiving Teletherapy
Often children are heard by their parents confiding in their friends, “I sure am glad that no one besides you knows that I go to a teletherapy session every week.
The obvious question is “Why.” After all, how is online therapy different than some other compensatory aid to alleviate a deficit, such as wearing glasses?
A child wouldn’t be embarrassed to show up in school with a cast on a broken leg. But when it comes to remote therapy, apparently this is of the most shameful secrets of all. For a child to acknowledge that he/she has trouble talking and needs help to do it correctly is admitting an entirely new level of vulnerability.
How Speech Proficiency Relates One’s Sense of Self
The source of a child’s communication difficulties can be for any number of reasons. Stuttering and apraxia primarily stem from a genetic or neurologic deficit. Lisps and strained voice habits are due to developmental problems. And sometimes anxiety can be the culprit.
Whatever the particular speech problem from whichever source, lacking the ability to clearly and pleasantly communicate can complicate a child’s life in many ways. Academic struggles, social failures, and the pain of being unable to express oneself can be enough the severely impair a child’s self-esteem for years to come.
And if that weren’t bad enough, erroneous presumptions such as relating a person’s intelligence and competence to how one speaks can completely undermine a child’s development. Even the ability to get married someday and raise a family is often impacted by a childhood speech problem.
Getting the Necessary Help in Secret
It indeed is ironic that kids communicate by talking to other children while at the same time talking about the way the speech challenged child talks is filled with shame. Every child wants desperately to improve at talking providing no else finds out about these heroic efforts at self-improvement.
Teletherapy clinicians often report that the sessions they conduct with children are both exciting and uplifting. Aside from working through the agenda of the session, children often tell of the challenges they were confronted with over the week and how they either overcame them or were overwhelmed by them.
This part of the clinical session is more akin to mental health therapy than to speech therapy. And yet this opportunity to share and receive encouragement and guidance is critical to the child’s overall development and growth, not to mention sanity! Often the heavy burden of shame the child carries slowly melts away.
The Critical Role of Family
Sharing this shame and anxiety with parents and siblings can also help the child unburden, but it comes with its risks. On the one hand, who can make the child more comfortable than the loved ones he/she is surrounded by every day? On the other hand, if the family doesn’t fully appreciate what the speech-challenged child is going through, the interactions can be disastrous and debilitating.
The two keys to the family’s role are validation and encouragement. To tell the child that he/she is doesn’t have a problem can be counterproductive and downright cruel. The child knows that he/she has a problem, so what is to be gained by denying the child’s experience? Alternatively, the child needs to feel that getting help is both courageous and to be respected.