All 3 of our boys have been in Speech Therapy. I think we have done speech therapy for a total of 7 years. Each of my boys have been different as to why they needed it and how to help them. My oldest, Zack, started out mumbling most of his speech. We figured out that he was saying things very fast but most of it just sounded like gibberish. My youngest, Quinn, growled everything he said. He laughed and cried normal, but anything that he spoke was growled. When Connor (my middle son), was 2, he wasn’t communicating with us 95% of the time. He said his sister’s name, “Abby” and “Dad” occasionally and once a month I got a “mom” out of him. The most he would do was to come up to us, gasp and point at something. He didn’t do this very often. I remember a friend coming to my house who had a child younger than Connor and she made attempts to converse with her mom. You couldn’t understand everything she said, but she was looking at her mom and engaging with her. I realized then that he needed help.
In all instances, the Speech Therapist wanted to take my boys back alone to work with them. I didn’t understand the concept because they were working with them for maybe 30 minutes, once a week. I didn’t see how that was going to make a big dent. I asked to go back so I could learn from them, and then apply it at home. And that’s what I did. We started requiring more of the boys. We used what we were working on at Speech Therapy and did it at home. If Zack was dropping off the last part of a word, then we worked on the sound and then had him combine it again with the word. For instance, if he was saying “stop” and it sounded like “staw” and he didn’t finish the word, we would practice the “p” sound and then add it. My go to rule was that it didn’t have to sound exact and perfect, they just had to be trying. We don’t go past 10 tries or get close. It’s more like 5ish. I didn’t correct every time, that would be discouraging. We mostly started when they were asking for something they wanted. Then we sprinkle it in throughout the day randomly.
For Quinn, his situation was unique. We had to teach him to whisper first and tell him to use his soft words. Modeling correct speech was never enough with him, we had to practice through play.
I really feel that if we had not worked with Connor, he wouldn’t be talking. I remember when we first started, we were working on animal noises. We just wanted him to make noise to communicate something to us. Animal noises are easier to make than saying a lot of words. We would get a puzzle with the animals and we encouraged him to make the animal noise for him to get the puzzle piece. I don’t remember it working well. He wasn’t talking at all, so why would he make animal noises. At first I decided to start with Sign Language. We didn’t need to know a lot. I knew a few signs so when he wanted something, he had to sign one word. It might have been “more” or “please” or the actual sign for what he wanted. With Connor, it was always food related. That’s the one time he would communicate through crying for something to eat. I never gave it, no matter how much he cried, unless he signed one word for it. At first he wouldn’t do the sign. I modeled it and he would look away, so I took his hand and did the sign for him. Then he got what he wanted. It took him a couple of months and then he was getting it and starting to communicate with us! I always accepted a sign, as long as he tried. I didn’t care what it looked like.
Once he had started communication through sign language, it was time to move forward to sounds. We stopped asking for the signs and started asking for the words. We had to start with just the first sound of the word. If he wanted milk, he had to say “mm”. Each new phase is always met with tears. After several months, he was communicating with minimal sounds to us. These experiences are always small, baby step, milestones. Kids his age are saying several word sentences, but we are celebrating that he just said mmm, on his own, for milk, without being prompted. Once that became more common place, and he would say mmm unprompted, then we went to the next part of the word.
You have to push them in small increments. You start with something they can do and push it one step further. If all they can do is point to a picture, then they point and you have them do a simple modified sign (that is made up if it needs to be) and have them start doing both. Once they can eventually sign, you eliminate the pictures. Then you move onto the next step. Always move forward and believe that they can achieve more.
It took months for each small step. I always felt like Connor’s speech was behind a brick wall. Each piece had to slowly be removed. Did he cry through the process? Yep. Did he learn? Absolutely! The Sign Language removed one brick and a light of communication shone through. We did the first sound of a word and the next brick was taken down. Brick by brick, as we took them down and we helped him through it, he was eventually able to join in and the wall came down a lot faster.
Learning through Play
We would have play sessions with certain toys. He really liked potato heads, so we would give him two choices of a part to add to the potato head. For instance, he could choose the eye or the ear. When he pointed to it, we would encourage him to say it (or sign depending on his level). Any attempt was accepted at first and congratulated. Once he could do more(and he was having fun), then we pulled a little more out of him. There was a lot of cheering and clapping involved. Connor looked forward to it and we did the sessions as long as he was engaged. When it was clean up time, we had this game where I would hold the bag shut and he had to say “open” or another word we might have been working on. Once he said it, I would open the bag and close it over his hand when he put it in and making chomping noises. He loved this part the most out of our play sessions.
It’s good and fine to sit with them and say words and point things out, but if your child isn’t talking when they should be developmentally, then you need to have structured play. Have some toys that the kids really enjoy, that you only pull out when you are doing speech therapy. Work with your therapists, and reinforce at home what they teach you. Meal time is a great time to incorporate speech as well as bath and story time. Connor’s speech really started taking off when we read scriptures at night as a family. We would ask him to repeat one verse. At the time he would repeat the same phrase for every word we asked, but after some time he would shock us and say a simple word.
Connor is going to be turning 7 this month and for several years now, you would never have known he didn’t talk when he was younger. The only thing he still struggles with are his “r” sounds. (All my boys do). He was behind, but with years of effort, by taking one day at a time, or a few minutes here and there, he is almost completely caught up.
You here the phrase, “Pick Your Battles” and many people don’t want to deal with the crying and think it is easier to just give them what they want, without them working for it (speech). I believe it is easier in the long run to push through and deal with it and teach NOW, instead of having to work twice as hard later to make up for it when it becomes a real problem. Don’t compare your children to others or their siblings. Just compare them to themselves, and celebrate their accomplishments, no matter how small.
Disclaimer: All Speech Therapy was play based and Connor loved every second of it! When I refer to him crying, I am speaking as his mother, of a non verbal child, who’s only means of communication was crying when he wanted something! His few minutes of distress over an item was not brushed aside. I taught him to not give up and that I was here to help him through his good times, and his hard times. We did not only teach him solely at speech therapy and play times. We taught him in all his routines and with all of his emotions.