"He Won't Talk"

Today's soapbox post comes from your friendly local speech language pathologist!  Here it is, the phrase that, when it hits my eardrums, gets my blood boiling:

"He doesn't have to talk because you talk for him."

Or it might sound something like this:

"He's just lazy."

"He talks when he wants to."

"You get him everything he wants, so he doesn't have to talk."

AHHHH!  Just typing those out made my blood pressure skyrocket and my pulse elevate a good ten beats per minute. 

I hear this quite frequently about Colin, but really, I also hear it professionally about other children too.  Friends, here's the thing though:  there is a big difference between "won't" and "can't."

"Won't" is a choice.  "Won't" means "I can physically and cognitively do this, but I am making the willful decision not to do it."

"Can't," according to Merriam-Webster, means "unable to do."

Children who aren't talking, for whatever reason, can't talk.  Imagine yourself in Colin's shoes:  you want a drink.  You take Mommy to the kitchen and show her that you want something in the fridge.  You open the door and she says, "What do you want?"  You point to the juice.  She says, "Juice.  Tell me juice."  She asks you to repeat her several times.  You begin to squeal and point.  You just want a drink of juice!  You start to get frustrated because 1) you have already shown her what you want, and 2) the word just isn't coming out!

Now, in that situation, wouldn't you just say the word "juice" if you could?  If someone is withholding the thing you want, and allllll you have to do to get it, is name it, you would absolutely do that! 

If a child isn't talking, I'm willing to bet it's a "can't" issue versus a "won't" issue.  That is why I get so worked up when someone tells me that he "doesn't have to talk, so he doesn't."  He gets frustrated when he wants something and I don't know what he wants.  There are times that I am sure he would love to tell me "I am done with this, let's go!" ....but he can't.

I also have to chuckle when someone says, "well you do everything for him, so he doesn't have to talk."  You do realize that you're talking an SLP, right?!  I am the mom who has put everything he wants (or might want) out of reach or inside a locked cabinet just so he has to come get me and show me what he wants.  Then, once he shows me, I model the heck out of that word in hopes that he will imitate me.  I am the queen of sabotaging his environment to create opportunities for language.  Yes, I usually anticipate his needs, but I still make him work for it!  He might be my first child with special needs, but this ain't my first rodeo, so to speak!

I know he gets frustrated when he can't communicate what he wants or needs.  I have to read his cues and know when it is time to stop pushing for verbal words.  Sometimes, words do come out.  I can see the excitement on his face after he says something and we praise him.  His little eyes light up, and he is so proud of himself...and we are always proud of him, words, or no words. 


  1. Amen!! I refuse to use those words, say those words, and when parents say them to me I have to explain EVERY SINGLE TIME the difference!!!! Spot on. You are just a great mama and SLP! ~Jenni

    1. Thank you, Jenni! You are so right, its usually parents who say it, and it gets me every time!

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  3. According to me, this "He doesn't have to talk because you talk for him." phrase explains everything.
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