We started speech therapy for our son when he was two years old. Because he was autistic, and loved his routines and familiarity, we found someone who was willing to complete the sessions in our home. Still, it took months before he would participate in the activities or cooperate at all as he always had his own agenda!
I’ve run into other parents who have had similar experiences, but many go even farther. Their child isn’t interested in speech at all. My initial thought was that they don’t need to speak, they are finding other ways to communicate. But, since I am no expert, I reached out to two speech therapists to get their feedback on why a child might not be motivated for speech therapy.
Right off the bat, Ken Koseki, SLP from Honolulu, Hawaii, said that children are not always going to be motivated from the start. In fact, it is pretty common for young children not be motivated at first. It’s a completely new experience and they don’t always understand why they are there. Their parents know why they are there but they don’t. So it becomes the responsibility of the speech therapist to provide a fun and comfortable environment that the child enjoys. Children don’t do things they don’t like. Plain and simple. However, in a fun environment the therapist can begin work on objectives and lead through example the benefit of achieving the child’s goals. Once the child recognizes that, sky’s the limit.
Sarah Baker, SLP and owner of Baker Speech Therapy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, shares some of her techniques. She says if a child is unmotivated from the very start of therapy, you may have to think outside of the box. Some children are naturally very passive and just are not motivated by much. The key is to find that ONE thing and start from there. Is it going outside to swing? Is it sitting in a bean bag chair rather than a desk chair? Is it crackers or candy? A particular YouTube video? Building communicative intent can be difficult but once a child realizes the value of communication, you see huge gains. Don’t settle for the traditional “sit at the table and review flashcards” gimmick. It does not always work, nor is it that functional. Meet the child where they are at, and then you will eventually get them to where they need to be.
She also offered some great insight for kids who have been in therapy for awhile and are getting burned out. Take a break! Lack of motivation happens often with children who have communication deficits that require years of intervention. They get burned out just like adults do. Studies show that taking a break is actually very beneficial in the learning process. It’s a great time to gain perspective of your child’s progress, re-evaluate goals, and put those skills you’ve learned from watching your speech path to the test.
I don’t know about other parents, but I found it pretty reassuring to know that lack of motivation, for whatever reason, is pretty normal for kids. I am so thankful to these two therapists for sharing with us. I know too that these techniques can be used to motivate children in other areas too (like doing homework)!