At a speech therapy seminar several years ago a presenter said, “If a child thinks they cannot say a sound or word, chances are they won’t”. After many years in speech therapy I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of these words. Children speak words they know and feel comfortable saying. For example, if I know a toddler says the word “car” and I ask them to repeat my model or identify a “car”, most often they say “car”. If I ask that same child to say a word or sound they have not said before said, most times my request will be met with silence.
For a spoken word or sound to occur, cognitive and physical connections must be in place first. Often with respect to first speech, we’re asking a child to something new. There is a first time for every sound or word and for something new to be spoken a surprising number of things must work in unison. Things we have no way of seeing, acting in conjunction with processes we can only imagine. And even if everything’s wired the way it’s supposed to, there must be a certain confidence level in place before a child will even try to say something new.
A Story About Confidence — Speech Therapy
Michael was an adorable 2 ½ year old with a pronounced speech delay. He could say only a few bilabial sounds but had no voiceless sounds e.g. /H/, /S/, /P/ and /F/. My goal this particular day was to help Michael build air-flow skills through horn play. It may seem like a simple task, but this was something Michael had never done before. Sitting in a circle with his mother’s help, the plan was for each of us to take a turn blowing the horn. The first time through I blew my horn, then his mother, and then Michael. He just held it while looking for someone else (anyone else) to blow theirs. After a couple of minutes of this, Michael appeared content to just watch the mom and I.
Then, just as I was having thoughts of moving away from this activity, something surprising happened. On a subsequent turn, Michael stood up and took his horn downstairs (we were on the top floor of a bi-level). Neither the Mom nor I said anything because Michael seemed to be a toddler on a mission. He reached the lower level, and after a brief moment of silence Michael began to toot the horn. After a few seconds, to our continued surprise, Michael ran up the stairs holding his horn with a wonderful smile on his face. When asked if he had blown his horn, Michael ran downstairs and blew a second time; this time even louder. I remember telling the mom the goal was for Michael blow on the horn, not that we had to actually see him do it.
For Michael it was just a matter of finding the confidence to try, and in this case he needed some space. There’s a first time for everything!