Wednesday 28 January 2015

I worry because my son doesn't play with others

Clinical pyschologist David Coleman
Clinical pyschologist David Coleman

My son is three years and four months old. He has delayed speech. I saw a speech therapist with the HSE when he was coming up to three years old and she said he wasn't making eye contact with her, so wasn't learning from her. Mind you, he makes eye contact with all of us at home.

We are now attending a speech pathologist and she said on the first session that he wouldn't make contact with her either. I went back last week and he wanted a toy from her shelf and made eye contact with her for that.

She was trying to get him to co-operate and play some games with her, which he did for a while but then he went off on his own agenda and played.

I notice that he echoes a question I ask him if he wants the item, for example if I ask "Do you want to go outside?" he will repeat "Go outside" if he does want to go and will say "No" if he doesn't.

I've asked how he is in playschool (where he goes two days a week) and his teacher said he doesn't want to talk/interact with them. She described that he plays alongside the other kids, not with them.

He also pushes the kids if they try to take things from him or touch what he is playing with.

I'm really worried that there might be something seriously wrong with him and I don't know where to turn.

David says: IT CAN be very upsetting whenever we worry about our children and an aspect of their development. It can also be very hard to know exactly what is "normal" when it comes to children and their development.

Consequently, as a precursor to everything I say here, I recommend that you go to your Public Health Nurse, or the HSE Speech Therapist that you attended, and look for a referral for a comprehensive developmental assessment.

Explain that you have already had appointments regarding his speech, but that you have more general concerns about how he interacts too. Give them the examples you have described to me here and ask them to refer your son for a full developmental assessment.

That said, many things that you describe about your son could be considered quite normal and common amongst three-year-olds.

For example, children will often be shy on their first meeting with a stranger and may not make eye contact or engage with them in any way. The fact that your son made eye contact with the speech pathologist on his second visit when he wanted something from her seems like a positive thing to me.

Three-year-olds have very short attention spans and will frequently chop and change between activities. Even when adults engage with them it can be hard for them to sustain their attention on a task that they may not find very exciting or fun.

From the example you give, it seems as though your son is well able to both understand a question and clearly express himself in his answer. The repetition of a key phrase from the question in his answer suggests that he knows what he is being asked and is learning to use those words to make himself understood too.

His interactions with the other children at the playschool seem very normal to me. Most three-years-olds will engage in what is called "parallel play" – where they play alongside their peers but not with them.

Co-operative play generally develops later following much adult intervention to help children learn to share and take turns.

In the interim children are content to play by themselves, even though they are surrounded with company.

Irish Independent

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