Realizing your child has a developmental issue that may require speech therapy can be a difficult experience. Just my presence on the scene means a family is no longer alone and that a professional has arrived to help. I often feel the concerns which led to the call for help as I walk in the door
One of the first questions I’m asked is the length of time it will take till everything is ok. As a therapist my role is to assure those concerned I am clinically competent with respect to their child’s issue and that over time things will improve – the key phrase is “over time”.
The dictionary defines patience as:
“The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”
When discussing speech therapy programs with families, I liked discussing not getting frustrated, or discouraged by the events of the present. The acquisition of speech and language is a an evolving process. It entails both the formation of cognitive, neurological, and physiological processes. For a word to be said, all the above processes (which by the way are invisible) have to act and coordinate in a manner they may have never done before. Given this multifaceted nature of speech, one of the most important elements for its acquisition s patience.
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!
I remember one of my earliest speech therapy seminars when the instructor Suzanne Evans Morris – laid down the tenet – that one of the prime roles of a therapist was to teach children to “love their mouth.” The more I practiced the more I came to understand the importance her words during speech therapy sessions.
Since speech is comes from a child’s mouth – it’s important to consider the mouth from the perspective of child. Away from a mirror, it’s not that visible. It’s also a source of discomfort, it’s the place where teething occurs. A place, with respect to speech, a lot of things are expected and maybe not a whole is happening. A child cannot see their own speech. Unlike a toy, they can’t hold it, push it or bang on it. And if you’re having problems it’s kind of like being at a tennis match where everyone around you is playing but you. Its easy for a little one to be frustrated and take a step back from expected speech goals.
The mouth and it’s speech is a phenomena that must be discovered. Children by nature, learn through play and adults act as facilitators of knowledge. We can guide and put things in the path a child to learn, but when all is said and done a child learns through a process of discovery.
Play Is fun – Discovery Is Fun – Learning Is Fun – Make Speech Fun
Children don’t play by the same rules as adults – they don’t yet think the way we do. I read an article suggesting that young children are faster to fix a computer problem than adults. Not because these digital natives are naturally better at technology (although they might be), but because they keep trying different things until they have success. They discover a solution while an adult will keep trying the same thing several times.
Children learn because they attend and are curious about something immediately in their path. They learn because something has caught their attention and sparked their inherent curiosity. As facilitators of learning, adults can place things in their path, but when all is said and done we can only hope it triggers an interest.
If a child is having fun it means that whatever is going on around them has the power to draw their attention and curiosity. And when in this state their mind is more open for learning.