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 of practicing, 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 new word or sound, I often receive no response.
For a spoken word or sound to occur, cognitive and physical connections must be in place first. Things we have no way of seeing must act 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 before a child will even try to say something new.
A Story About Confidence — Speech Therapy
Michael was an adorable two ½-year-old with a noticeable 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. Working with Michael and his mom, 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. When it came to his turn, he just held it while looking for someone (anyone else) to blow theirs. After a couple of minutes of this, Michael appeared content just to watch the mom and me.
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 beautiful 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 and not that we had to 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!