At the age of 16 months we noticed my youngest daughter, Addison, was delayed in her speech. She only had two or three words and the words she did have were not very clear. We had been down this road before with my oldest daughter. One week after my oldest daughter had ear tubes put in, the number of words she had seemed to multiply each week. Surely this was going to be the same case with my youngest daughter I thought, right? I made the appointment to get her ears checked and was hopeful that it would be our answer.
While sitting in the hearing test room with my daughter on my lap, they began the tests. After multiple tries to get her to respond to the noises, the nurse said we were done and began using a tool in her ears to check for hearing loss. Once they were done, they confirmed that she did in fact have mild hearing loss due to multiple ear infections and needed tubes. We quickly scheduled the surgery for the tubes to be inserted, and a week later the surgery was completed. Now she will start talking right? A week went by and we didn’t notice any change in her speech, and another week went by and still no change. The weeks then turned into months with very little improvement in her speech.
Friends and family kept telling us that her words would eventually come, that it was just because she was the second child, or that it was because her sister would talk for her. But despite their kind words and encouragement, there was something in my mommy gut that knew the words were not going to come on their own. Her cognitive skills were all there, she would respond when we would tell her to do something, could follow two-part directions, and used basic sign language to communicate what she wanted or needed. Finally, five months after her ear surgery, I couldn’t put off the feeling anymore and requested a speech therapist referral from our pediatrician.
We called the Children’s clinic and made an appointment. I was excited to begin the process but nervous as well. I did not know what to expect at our first speech therapy appointment. We walked into the room and my daughter was immediately put at ease with all the toys and bright colors. The speech therapist began talking to us about what she would be working on with our daughter and began her initial evaluation. She brought out toys and played with Addison to see how she would react and had multiple pictures that she would ask Addison if she knew what it was and if she could say it. Once she was done evaluating her she then explained to us that yes, Addison did qualify for speech therapy. I was happy that she qualified because I knew that she needed it, but the next statement hit me in my gut. “She is in the bottom 2% for her age.” I knew that she was behind, but I did not know how behind she actually was.
The next week at speech, we all sat down and the therapist began working with Addison. The therapist asked Addison to get something for her and Addison needed help. By habit, I reached over and helped her as I would typically do, and I got yelled at by the therapist. At first I was a little on the defense and thought “Um, why are you snapping at me for helping my child?” And then she began to explain it to me. If Addison is always going to get what she wants without having to ask for it by using her words, then why put the effort into speaking? OH MY GOODNESS, why didn’t I think of that?
This simple revelation was the turning point for us. We found that Addison did in fact have quite a few words she could say, but she was very stubborn (those of you that know me might know where she gets that from…) and didn’t want to say them. The therapist encouraged us to hold out for her to say what she wanted and not give into her right away. If Addison wanted her milk, we would hold it in front of her and encourage her to say milk and not give it to her until she said the word. If she needed help getting a toy, we would ask if she needed help and would encourage her to say help before we would help her. Interacting with Addison differently made a huge difference in the way Addison would communicate with us and the amount of words she used daily.
In addition to the clinical speech therapy sessions, we also contacted the Help Me Grow program in which our school district provides a speech therapist to come to our home and daycare to observe and work with Addison. Having a therapist come into her environment to see how she communicates in everyday life had also helped tremendously.
My daughter’s speech has come such a long way since that first appointment and I am so very thankful for the speech therapist we have been working with. Below are a few of the things that really helped us in the road to helping with her delayed speech. I hope some of these can help you and your child if they are experiencing a delay in speech!
- Get your child’s ears checked. If they cannot hear correctly, chances are they are going to have a hard time with their speech development.
- Help Me Grow. This program is an interagency program with the MN Department of Education and provides resources for families to make sure your child is hitting development milestones. They do free screening, and if your child qualifies, they provide free services in the home, daycare, or school.
- Basics signs. We used basic signs with Addison that helped us to be able to communicate with her while she learned to speak her words correctly.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. We repeat a lot of words with Addison to help her learn the word and pronunciation.
- Read lots of books together. Our favorite is the 100 words book.
- Give praise. When she says a new word or uses her words well, we praise her for it! Also, instead of just saying “Good job,” we tell her what she did a good job at such as “I really like that you used your words” or “Great job for saying, ‘Please!’”
- Encourage the use of words to get what they want vs gestures. Ok, I get it. Life as a mom is busy enough and sometimes we don’t have time to play the hold out game with our kids when we know exactly what they want and can take care of it in two seconds. But this small change is worth it. It has made such huge impact on Addison’s speech progress.