What I learned from homework

“Don’t forget to do your homework!”

As a pediatric speech therapist, these words come as second nature for me to say to the parents of my little clients. I used to utter them without much regard for what they meant to parents. I have always placed an emphasis on the need for “homework”—following through with therapy goals and strategies outside of therapy sessions. I’ve always seen it as my job to teach parents tools they can use to help their children become better communicators, so they can be equipped to implement them with their children in day-to-day life. After all, real progress is made when “therapy” becomes a way of life, both for my clients and their parents.

Experiencing therapy with my own daughter starting at 6 months old opened my eyes to all that “homework” really entails. While I still believe in the importance of follow-through at home, I have a greater appreciation now for what that really means for parents and what a challenge that can be.

My older daughter had torticollis as a baby that required weekly physical therapy. Not only did the torticollis make her neck muscles tight on one side and weak on the other, causing her head to tilt, but it also delayed her ability to do things like roll over, push up and bear weight on her arms, get herself into a sitting position, crawl, and pull to stand.

Week after week at the end of each session, our therapist would give me daily homework exercises to do with my daughter. And week after week as she was assigning our homework, I would nod and smile, all the while in the back of my mind thinking, “You mean you expect me to do that with my little angel?! It looks so complicated! It makes her cry! She will hate me! I don’t want to have to do this.”

It dawned on me that the parents of my speech therapy clients might have similar thoughts when I ask them to practice something at home. It made me stop and think: why is this homework business so hard?

I came to realize that homework requires parents to try to help children do what doesn’t always come easy for them, which places us in a role we might not always be comfortable playing. Sometimes it makes us face the realities of our child’s current limitations. All parents want their children to succeed, and it can be painful to see our children struggle. And sometimes it can force us to see our own limitations—to feel frustrated and inadequate to help when progress doesn’t happen as quickly as we had hoped.

Looking back on those challenging months of therapy with my daughter, I feel like in some small way, they helped to prepare me for the future. There will always be challenges that my daughter, and all children, will have to face in life. What a great privilege parents have to help our children overcome limitations, master new skills, and ultimately achieve their goals.

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About Cara Barthelette, Bundoo Pediatric Speech Therapist

Cara Barthelette is a speech-language pathologist at a pediatric therapy practice in Boca Raton, Fla. She provides therapy for children of all ages with a variety of difficulties, including speech and language delays, autism, stuttering, and auditory processing disorder.

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