Health

Monday 15 September 2014

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.

The fact that he doesn't seem to interact much with the staff in the playschool may be just because he doesn't yet know them well enough. He may also not feel confident yet about his ability to talk and make himself known and understood.

He also only goes to playschool two days a week so he may just be taking longer to settle in there and become generally comfortable with the staff and the environment.

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.

Indeed the struggles to protect his "possessions" also seem entirely normal to me and are simply an indicator that he hasn't yet learned those all important skills of sharing and turn-taking.

Each and every child will learn different developmental skills at different rates and to differing degrees of success. There is rarely a specific age or moment in life when a child "should" do something or know something. If your son has struggled with a language delay this may have made it harder for him to mix and play with other children and adults. Of course it is worrying to think that your son may be lagging behind his peers in some way.

If you remain worried then follow up and look for a comprehensive developmental assessment. It will either put your mind at ease or identify the exact areas where your son might need some help.

My 18-year-old blames me for his drug-taking

I am extremely worried about my 18-year-old son, who I recently found out is smoking hash on a very regular basis. I found out through reading his text messages, so he could deny nothing, but he has the attitude that it's no big deal.

He insists that he doesn't smoke as much as the messages made out and that he is going to stop.

He says it's my fault that he is rebelling, because I always did too much for him!

I know myself I am strict and always used to question who he was with and where he was if he was out. It took him a long time to make new friends when he went to secondary school.

When he did eventually meet up with a nice bunch, he also met another gang through the band he started to play with. I think he got into smoking drugs with them.

He says he is not stupid enough to start taking anything heavier but, as far as I am concerned, he has already taken the first step in the wrong direction.

His dad and I split up before he was born and the relationship between us has not been good.

He is very close to his dad but he is more of a friend to him than a parent so I just feel I have no back-up whatsoever. What can I do?

David says: I can imagine that the situation you find yourself in is increasingly common for parents around the country.

Hash and weed, the two most common forms of the cannabis plant, are easily available and are becoming an expected part of teenage life.

By way of explanation, hash or hashish is the name for a block of cannabis resin. Hash is created by harvesting the trichomes, or little sticky hairs on the plant, and then compressing them into a hard block, or paste, of cannabis resin.

Cannabis, in this hash form, tends to be more potent than the dried leaves and seeds of the plant. It is the dried leaves and seeds that are known as weed, dope, grass, pot, among other names.

No matter how the cannabis is prepared (dried or resin), the most common way to use cannabis is to smoke it.

So, 'weed' gets rolled into a cigarette-shaped joint, using tobacco papers, either as pure dried cannabis or is added to some tobacco.

Hash typically gets crumbled and mixed into some tobacco and rolled into a joint.

Alternatively, it can be smoked in a pipe or a bong (where the smoke is bubbled through water).

I'd guess that you have been very upset and scared since discovering that your son is smoking hash.

You may feel disappointed with him, or even with yourself. Many parents in similar situations feel like they have failed in some way, as a parent.

The manner in which you found him out, by reading his personal, and I assume private, texts suggests that you don't trust him. I wonder how much he trusts you in return. You also mention that your son seems to think that you have been over-protective of him.

Perhaps you have been protective, but no matter how you have interacted in the past, this is certainly your opportunity to engage with him in a very adult manner now.

I think it is very fair for you to be explicit about your feelings and opinions about drug use. Be very clear about the extent to which you can or will tolerate his use of drugs. Get support for yourself, perhaps from a site like www.drugs.ie.

I think it is fair for you to set the ground rules in relation to him continuing to live in your house. If that means no hash is allowed to be stored or used there then that is very fair.

Outside of your house, however, your son is officially an adult. That means he can, and must, take responsibility for what he does. It also means he can choose to smoke hash if he wants.

What you can help him with, however, is to be really clear about the possible consequences of that behaviour for him. Those consequences may range from headaches, anxiety, lethargy and lack of motivation, right though to arrest and prosecution for possession of illegal substances.

But, mostly, you can encourage him to make wise choices and to take full responsibility for all of those choices, particularly the unwise ones. Drug debts, trouble with the gardai, poor performance in school, college or the workplace are all, entirely, the potential problems of his own making.

Irish Independent

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