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Can vs. Can't

“If they can’t learn the way we teach,
we teach the way they learn.”

Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas

Today I participated in a difficult evaluation. My heart broke watching the parent’s face continue to fall as she answered questions regarding their child’s communication skills. “Is your child using any words?” “No.” “Is he pointing at items that he wants?” “No.” On and on it went until the evaluation was completed. While the child has plenty of skills in other developmental areas, the communication portion of the assessment was all about what their child “can’t do”. It’s a hard truth, but we must first understand what the child can’t do before we can start therapy. It’s hard for me because as a therapist I want to focus on the positives. I want parents to know that I appreciate all the unique and wonderful things about their child. Focusing on the “cant’s” can be a heart-breaking process for parents, especially for those that are going through evaluations for the first time. While they may have suspected their child had a communication delay, receiving that confirmation and subsequent diagnosis from a professional can be devastating.


Once the child has been diagnosed and is receiving therapy, we will work with the family to understand their child’s new diagnosis. It is common for families to research and arm themselves with as much information as possible. Parents want to be proactive and do what is best for their child. But research often continues to focus on what a child can’t do and causes parents to become bogged down with negatives. The new diagnosis brings uncertainty causing parents to dwell on the skills their child doesn’t have right now. When we focus on the can’t, we are setting our children and ourselves up for failure and heart break. While the evaluation and diagnostic process must recognize the things a child can’t do, the focus of therapy needs to be on what a child can do and how those skills can be leveraged to lead to future success. Most parents believe in their child’s future success but may have a hard time focusing on that in the beginning.


Why do we focus on the negatives so much for our children with delays while celebrating the positives for children without delays? All children, regardless of their abilities, have positive and negative characteristics and deserve to be celebrated.


How do you focus on the positives without losing sight of the big picture? While recognizing and understanding the challenges that a child is facing is extremely important, we need to focus on the positive characteristics of a child and what they can do. We must recognize and celebrate small accomplishments and use those accomplishments to build communication skills. Then we continue to build on those skills making the journey fun and motivating for the parents, child, and therapists. Celebrating children and praising them along the way provides motivation and makes the learning process fun. Our job is to take that motivation and continue to build skills that will eventually lead to big accomplishments!


We want to help make the process of therapy as easy and fun as possible. If you feel like your child could benefit from speech therapy, please give us a call. We offer free phone consultations to determine if speech therapy is appropriate for your child.


"Jessie is such a loving and caring therapist. Her passion for helping her patients and families show every visit. She is open to what works for each patient while being effective and productive. She is responsive and able to adapt to her patient's moods. Speech therapy has never been my son's favorite, and he has been to known to be a bit difficult, but it never slowed Jessie down. She was always so loving and made the sessions fun for him. I would recommend her to anyone looking for a great therapist."  – Belinda

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