Dear Therapist:

Our 13-year-old daughter is a very sweet girl who is not the best academically but overall does well.  She is however pretty quiet in general, seems slightly anxious and seems to have trouble really expressing herself. For example she has a hard time describing the details of a story and usually will just talk in short sentences and will answer a question with a word or two. We are considering therapy for her but someone recently suggested that it may be more of a language type of problem. We are not sure exactly what that means and how we could differentiate between if this is an emotional issue that a therapist can help with or a language issue. Can you please help us understand this better. If it is a language issue which type of professional can help with that? Thank you. 

 

Response:

Aside from your comment about your daughter being “slightly anxious,” I don’t see anything that you specifically mention, which would lead you to believe that your daughter’s issue is emotional. The details that you provide all seem to be based around language skills.

Of course I don’t know the full story or the extent or specifics of your daughter’s trouble communicating. It is possible that the cause of her quiet tendencies and terse responses are emotional in nature. However, the information that you provided does not necessarily point in this direction.

Had you said that your main concern for your daughter is constant anxiety—and then mentioned her communication issues—I would be more inclined to focus on the anxiety as a possible cause. Of course, it is possible that your daughter is rather anxious in general, but that her feelings of anxiety are not very obvious. In this instance, her communication issues could very well be attributable to her anxiety.

When you state that your daughter “has a hard time describing the details of a story,” I don’t know whether this means that she has trouble with this in the sense that she has difficulty organizing the thoughts in her mind, whether she has trouble putting her thoughts into words, or whether anxiety is hampering her ability to properly communicate her thoughts. Similarly, her concise responses can be indicative of any of these issues or a combination thereof.

If you believe that your daughter may have an anxiety problem, you can have a discussion with her to try and ascertain whether this is, in fact, the case. This would naturally be dependent on her maturity level, the nature of your relationship, and other factors. If you feel that she might not be forthcoming with you, perhaps she would be more comfortable speaking with someone outside of the family, whether this be a rabbi, a family friend or a professional.

If it is your clear sense that your daughter’s issues are not related to emotional concerns, other possibilities are a learning disability, a language disorder, or autism spectrum disorder. These would typically be addressed by the school (in the form of special education), speech and language therapy, and a therapist who specializes in autism—respectively.

Of course, it is possible that your daughter has none of these problems, and that she is simply a bit introverted, and feels no need to be overly talkative. If it becomes clear that she is not very anxious, and that she has no language or communication issues, she may simply not be aware of your concern, and may continue to develop in her own way.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

  www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200