How to help your child make rapid progress outside of therapy
Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim
Children: you bring this tiny being into the world and suddenly, no matter how much knowledge or experience you may have had about or with children before, it all melts into a soggy puddle in your brain, as you realise this little one in your arms, suckling from your breast, is your own responsibility. Your own, full responsibility: to love, cherish, teach and nurture.
You muddle through or search for the best advice from family, friends and online, to help you deal with and enjoy each new phase of your child’s development. And most of the time, that is just fine, because, miraculously, your child grows and learns and starts communicating, naturally, with no special effort on your part.
BUT, just sometimes, a child doesn’t develop so easily. There are always many different reasons and factors affecting this.
And you – even if you are a first Mum – are the first person to wonder what is going on, and why your child isn’t doing what everyone tells you he should be doing at each stage of his growth.
Talking is the most amazing aspect of our humanity. It reflects the soul in us. It expresses who we are. It comes naturally – to most of us. And even to the little ones who find it hard to learn to talk, it will become their unique way to communicate, and perhaps the way they let the rest of us know they are special.
"Your son is out of control..."
So – you are a parent with a little one you are worried about. You are anxious, because there is still the stigma of having a child who is different, not keeping up with his peers, and for a while you may try and ignore the problem, and give extra attention to your little one at home.
But the problem doesn’t go away. The Nursery staff talk to you about your child - perhaps you are familiar with the complaints:
"Your son doesn’t listen, he is all over the place at Nursery, he doesn’t join in with the class activities!"
"Your daughter is always withdrawn and refuses to do anything!"
Or perhaps your child may be one of those who is disruptive and tends to snatch toys from others or get cross when he is told to do something he does not want to do. Or maybe when it is something he wants to carry on doing, he continues to do it, on and on, when the time is long since finished for that activity.
If these situations persist, I recommend the following steps in responding to and dealing with any learning difficulty flagged by your child's school, or that you personally feel your child might have.
What can you do if your child seems to have a problem?
1) Get clear information - and if possible, have a professional assessment done
I will write a more detailed article about how to find a good speech language therapist soon. But once you have a completed professional assessment completed, you might need help understanding the report and the advice.
Make sure you ask for clarity on an assessment, in your own language if possible, and be sure of what is being advised as solution steps for your child.
These are the right kind of questions to ask:
What do the words like _______ mean? e.g. ‘Autism’
Or terms and acronyms like ‘ADHD’?
Will my child always have this problem?
Can it be sorted out or improved?
What is the recommended treatment?
Are there other ways to treat this difficulty?
What sort of help does my child need at school?
What can I do to help my child?
2) Find an accredited and registered Therapist
For the UAE, there is a clear system of registered professionals who are allowed to provide Therapy.
However, you need to ensure that you investigate the credentials of any teacher or therapist you employ to work with your child. I will write soon about the therapists and doctors I can personally recommend, here in the UAE, and they will be included in the links to this site.
3) Find a Therapist you can be fully involved with
If the child needs therapy, then this is where you will need to be fully involved.
Not all therapists accept the presence of a parent in the session. I would, in most cases, want a parent to be present in my therapy sessions. It helps the parent to know what we are doing, and for me to model what needs to be done with the child. It also me to see the interactions of the parent with her child.
I often make suggestions to the parent – and sometimes the parent may not be aware of certain ways she plays or speaks that are making it harder for her child to learn.
4) Set a regular time for practice.
Whatever the ‘Therapy’, a once or twice weekly session will not help your child unless you follow up each session with practice of the things the Therapist does in the session. This is one of the reasons why I believe you are your child's best therapist!
Even as adults we cannot learn any new skill without practice: learning to drive a car, or a new language, - these take a lot of time and patience. For your child – learning to ride a bike, tie shoe laces, eat with knife and fork – or properly with his fingers – are all skills that take lots of repetition. That kind of repetition is what ‘therapy’ is: doing a simple thing over and over again till it becomes natural and easy for the child to do, then going on to the next step.
It is no good for a therapist to expect even an older child to do this practice alone. You, the parent, will help your child most if you see what is done in the therapy session each time, and then practice it yourself with the child at home.
5) Reward your child for effort and each small progress in therapy
Most Therapists will work towards specific goals in therapy, and will praise the child when this is completed.
A trip to the park, or a special treat, or even just a big hug and praise from you as well as from the Therapist, is so important to your child. You cannot know how much it means to him! And it rewards you too, to mark each step, sometimes even very small ones.
In my long experience of working with parents and children, it is always the children whose parents are fully involved with the therapy sessions I provide, and then practice at home until the next session, who make the quickest, best and most permanent progress.
Believe me, some of the busiest Mums are the ones who somehow find the time to help their children with their practice, because they know it works! I encourage you all to be one of those Mums – and / or Dads! Because ultimately, you are child's best therapist!
Have you ever had an assessment done for your child? How do you feel about continuing therapy with your child outside of sessions?
Let me know in the comments below!