Working with Children with Anxiety

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Bottom Line: It’s not our problem….

Ok, yes anxiety and aversions do not strictly fall in our scope so my overall disclaimer to all of this must be: refer these types of problems on to an occupational therapist or mental health specialist.

But…I tend to treat whole children, not just walking mouths.

To be totally honest, it’s very difficult to just treat speech and language and ignore all of the other problems (especially in very involved children).  It also doesn’t do our children any good to say “that’s not my area” and leave alone a problem that we can easily address along side our own goals.

Along those same lines, we would LOVE it if our children’s other therapists would encourage them to use their good speech sounds and words during their therapies.

We’re treating whole children here so I recommend working on anxieties and fears WHILE you are working on the communication goals if it is at all possible.

How to Treat Anxieties or Sensory Problems:

The best thing you can do here is to work with the child’s OT or mental health specialist because they will know the best way to approach a problem for a specific child.  I can’t tell you specifically what to do since each child is different and their reason for being scared of something will be different.

However, you can ALWAYS work on helping a child use language to express his fear or dislike of an object to give him some empowerment over that object.

A Case Study:

Bennie (name changed) love trains but also had some pretty intense sensory problems.  One day, I brought him into the speech room to play with my awesome train that made real train noises when you pushed the button.

Big mistake.

Bennie covered his ears and ran from the room screaming “no no no!”.  Whoops!  After that, I could get Bennie to come back into the speech room but only if he couldn’t see the train.  If he saw that darn train he ducked and covered.

Here are the steps I took to desensitize Bennie:

  • Bennie walked with me to the door of the room and stayed in the doorway for a minute while I grabbed something out of the speech room (train was on a high shelf, in view but not on).  I taught Bennie how to say “I don’t like that train.  I don’t want it to make noise”.
  • Bennie had to go into the speech room to retrieve something with the train on a shelf in sight
  • Bennie had to come into the speech room and do one minute of work with the train in sight
  • Gradually, we increased the length of time until Bennie could be in the room with the train, no problem
  • Then, we gradually moved the train closer to Bennie
  • Eventually, we got to the point where a child near Bennie could play with the train without him freaking out.  Go Bennie!