We started our speech and language journey with Poppy a few months ago. Two months isn’t a long time at all but only a few weeks after her initial assessment we saw some slight improvements and then it plateaued. It was concerning but after a review with her therapist we were reassured that she is heading in the right direction. So for those of you that may be going through a similar journey or are worried about your children I thought I’d share a few things from our journey so far.
A small disclaimer that I am not a professional and this is purely our personal experience but some of these tips or words of encouragement have come from a professional speech and language therapist.
1. Use a small number of words – we get told by professionals to always talk to our children whatever age. If you’re hanging the washing tell them what you’re doing, have a conversation as much as possible and they’ll take it all in. That’s not always the case and it’s important with a child who can’t speak naturally to keep things to a small number of words. Poppy struggles to understand one word, so how is me talking at her going to help? It won’t, it’ll hinder. Now, this is a hard habit to break, especially having another daughter who does benefit from me talking all the time. I’m still getting the hang of this one.
Playing our game of “Push Push” where we are teaching Poppy that putting shapes into their places requires her to “Push.”
2.Word association – If you’re trying to teach your child the name of things have a physical form to show them it in to reinforce what you’re saying. An example we are currently using is when it is teatime we show Poppy her plate of food as well. This means (fingers crossed) she will eventually associate the word tea time with a plate of food and have an understanding of that without the need to show her the plate.
3.Don’t push too hard – It’s very stressful and concerning when you’re child can’t speak and they should be able too. But withholding and punishing will have the opposite effect. If your child passes you their drink signalling for more juice don’t withhold the juice until they say the word juice. I mean the likelihood is that they can’t even say it. And them coming up to you and handing the juice is their way of communicating with you.
4.Communicating is more than words – This was the biggest learning curve for me with Poppy. I didn’t realise until her assessment how little comprehension she had. How little understanding she had of the world around her. But now a few months on she’ll grab my hands and put them on a toy she needs help with, she gives me her shoes if she wants them on and knows what’s coming next when I dress her in the morning. That is progress, that is her building her understanding. There may be no words, but there is non-verbal progress.
5.Time – obvious I know but after a review with her therapist she shared something really useful with me. She referred to most children who don’t talk naturally as very tightly wound internally. The harder you push them to speak the tighter they become inside. But just like a mummy, peel away a little of that bandage and slowly they will unravel.
Poppy is two this month, and it isn’t rare that a child of her age isn’t talking yet. But there is a lot more going on with Poppy that means her reason for not talking could not just go away with time. And it isn’t her not talking that’s been challenging its the lack of understanding that has always been the struggle.
So a nice reminder as a parent of a child who cannot communicate. If you’re out in a shop and a child is having a meltdown, that adult may have no idea what is wrong with that child. Crying from a child who can’t communicate can be happiness or sadness. They may not be able to signal what is causing them distress, this usually means that there isn’t a whole lot that the adult can do to soothe them. It’s hard.
Poppy will scream from being happy or from being extremely distressed, there’s only a slight difference between those screams that only me and her dad can differentiate between those screams. She’s been doing this for over a year, and I learned early on that I can’t tell her to be quiet. Because right now that is how she communicates, if we stop her from making those noises she may stop making noises altogether.
No matter how long it carries on for it doesn’t get much easier, because along with the progress usually comes with some new complications. But Poppy’s ability to communicate is now down to us as her parents. Speech and Language Therapy is all about training the parent to do things differently. We will continue to work on her and hope that in time, however long that is we will have a child who understands her parent’s words and can talk back to us as well.
Danielle Swan x