The Anxiety Of Having A Child With A Speech Disorder

by Sarena Jonah
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To the parents of children with speech and language disorders:

I see you over there, doing your absolute best for your children every single day.

Some days are harder than others, but you try to stay positive because as you’ve been told many times by now it could be so much worse. The hard days are hard and you wish you could just explain to the “it could be so much worse” folk just how tough it can be.

I see your heart silently breaking into a million pieces as you calmly tell your child for the sixth time that you aren’t sure what they want or what they are trying to tell you. You can understand them most of the time, but not always. It’s worse when they are talking to people who aren’t around them often, as others usually don’t understand a thing your child says.

I see the look on your face when people tell you that you shouldn’t speak for your child because then they’ll never learn how to talk on their own. You try explaining their speech disorder (which in my son’s case is childhood apraxia of speech), and defeatedly nod when you’re told that back in their day, all of these diagnoses didn’t exist, and some kids talk later than others. “I had a cousin who didn’t talk until age five because everyone else spoke for him,” they say.

I see the worried look on your face at play groups when a child six months younger than yours is speaking in full sentences and conversing with her mom back and forth. You try not to compare most of the time, but some differences are like a bright light shining boldly in your face. You wonder when the day will come that you can have an actual conversation with your child. Most days it feels like you are just a parrot repeating what your child says back to them in order to help them learn proper pronunciation.

I can feel the worry and fear in your chest as you wonder how the lack of services and programs due to the pandemic will affect your child. Will they fall even further behind in their speech and language, and what will that mean for them? Waitlists for everything are even longer now, too. You were told it would be an 18-month waitlist to get him in for an autism assessment, and it’s been 19 months now. It feels as though you are all waiting in limbo, though you were proactive from the moment you realized something just wasn’t quite right with your child’s development.

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I can feel your tension at the park when your child attempts to play with a group of kids. Will they run away from him today? Will he get teased for “talking like a baby”? Will he be told today that “I can’t understand you” or have to watch the embarrassment he feels when another child asks you, “why does he talk that way?”

You read books on being kind and the importance of not bullying, and you choose reading material that emphasizes loving yourself. You tell your child all the time how special they are in hopes that they don’t let it bother them that not every other kid wants to play with them or even likes them. You hope you are instilling enough confidence in him that he chooses uplifting and kind friends, rather than choose friends that tease him.

I can feel the tears on your cheeks at the end of an especially hard day with your child. The days that are full of non-stop screaming, tantrums, and challenging behaviors. You feel like everything you are doing is pointless, from the speech therapy sessions to your gentle parenting methods. You thought things would get easier once they started talking, but you’re realizing that their heartache in being able to speak but not being understood is on a whole other level. You feel like a terrible parent for losing your crap with them more times than you’d like to admit, because you know they’re struggling, too. In fact, you know they are struggling more than you are with this, and that intensifies your guilt even further.

However, I also see the joy in your face when your child not only says a new word or phrase, but pronounces it correctly, too! I feel your relief when a speech therapy session goes well and you feel like progress is finally being made. I see you celebrating at the end of a good day and patting yourself on the back for a day well done while mentally noting everything that worked that day in hopes it will work the next day, too. The hard days are hard, but the good days are worth their weight in gold. You are thankful for every good day.

I relate to you when you boast about any amount of progress your child has made. You begin to think of all of the exciting possibilities for their future and hope that any adversity they face will just help them to become strong, resilient, and confident human beings.

We are often told, oh just wait until they start talking, you’ll be sorry you ever wanted it to happen sooner or enjoy the silence while it lasts. In our case, when our children do start talking, it is music to our ears. I see your gratitude when your previously nonverbal child is now verbal.

I feel your gratitude when your child acquires any new skill, especially related to communication. I see your happy tears when your child makes a new friend. I can feel your pride when you look at your child and realize that although the journey is going to contain some speed bumps, they will most likely be okay, and you will be, too.