The Absolutely Everything I Have Learned About Speech Delays Entry
September 19, 2007
This one is going to be all boring gritty speech delay details, y'all, with assvice and requests for further assvice and probably a minimum of I-got-drunk-and-fell-down-ness, even though I DID fall down this weekend and still have gravel in my palm. I wasn't drunk, I was just running late for a showing of the latest Harry Potter movie (and of course by "latest" I mean "the one that came out months ago") and I tripped and fell off my so-last-season shoes.
(Request for Non-Speech-Delay Assvice: How do you get teeny little specks of gravel out of your palm, especially after the skin seems to have healed right over them? And if there is no way to get it out short of re-slicing your hand open, is there any harm in leaving it there, i.e. setting off metal detectors at the airport?)
ANYWAY. Most of you can probably skip this entry, and just let us speech-delay-type people talk amongst ourselves. (There is a really lame joke somewhere in that sentence, but I AM NOT HERE FOR JOKES TODAY PEOPLE. I AM NOT YOUR MONKEY.)
(I AM SO YOUR MONKEY.)
Part the First: Fish Oil? Le Fuck?
This is something we researched on our own and decided to try. (Translation: neither our pediatrician nor the Early Intervention folks mentioned it.) Not that it's some kind of crazy New Age moonshine quackery, or anything. It's good ole' cod liver oil.
The book The Late Talker (which is excellent, by the way, and echoes most of what our speech therapy has taught us) has a ton of info on the benefits for speech-delayed children. Fish oil is high in essential fatty acids -- omega-3s, DHA, all that jazz. If you formula-fed, you probably remember seeing DHA stamped all over the packaging. Breast milk has it too, although I doubt your boobs were similarly labeled. DHA is good for the nervous system, and thus, fish oil is suggested for children with neurological problems -- SPD, autism, apraxia, etc. Since we suspected Noah's speech delay was, in part, neurologically based, we opted to add more fatty acids to his diet. These are naturally found in oily fishy fish, but of course: 1) mercury is also found in oily fish, and 2) not many two-year-olds really dig sardines.
Luckily, thanks to Whole Foods and other vitamin/health-food-type places, you can easily find flavored versions that 1) are independently purity tested for mercury, and 2) taste like candy! Sort of. We've tried Spectrum's lemon-flavored Cod Liver Oil and Coromega's orange-flavored version. Both can be easily hidden in juice, although the thicker and tangier the juice, the better. Once again, Trader Joe's Green Plant Sludge Juice Product to the rescue. You can hide ANYTHING in that shit, people. For real. I've also mixed it into jars of tart-flavored baby food (mango, banana, etc.) and then added that to regular juices. (The oil tends to separate from watery juices unless you thicken them up.)
We give Noah one teaspoon daily. You can also try flaxseed oil if your child is allergic to fish or rejects the flavored versions. Talk to your doctor. All warranties on Amalah-branded advice are void where prohibited, which is to say everywhere.
Part the Second: Sippy Cups With Straws? Le Fuckity Fuck?
A lot of smart smart commenters with experience in speech delays and Early Intervention mentioned this one to me early on: get rid of sippy cups with spouts and switch to straws. This was also the first piece of advice we got from the speech pathologist who evaluated Noah.
I've mentioned that Noah's pronunciation is odd, and his mouth positions are not quite right -- even when he says words he's "mastered." He says Mama very clearly, but it's nasal, and his top teeth jut over his bottom lip. This is not the proper (or easiest!) way to produce the M sound. (Say it yourself to see what I mean.) He doesn't want to put his lips together, which makes saying a whole lot of words a whole lot harder.
The idea behind the straws is to flex those mouth muscles and get his tongue out of the way. The speech pathologist even did a doodle for us about the position of the mouth and tongue when drinking from a spout sippy cup and how it's all wrong for speech. (Although let me interject that your choice of sippy cup is SO NOT A BIG DEAL if your child is not speech delayed. Don't freak out and panic because your 13-month-old can't use a straw yet. Don't go filing a class-action lawsuit against the Playtex Insulator. This is one of those "if you suspect a problem, give this a shot" sort of things.)
Other activities we do for Noah's mouth muscles include: blowing bubbles, whistles and kazoos, applying Chapstick and making an exaggerated mmmmmmmwa-lipsmack kind of sound, and the whole facial-expressions-in-the-mirror thing.
Part the Third: Have You Tried Talking To Your Kid, Dumbass?
Obviously, we've always talked to Noah. We read books, we sing songs, we use words and gestures and ask questions and all that good stuff. But it clearly wasn't working.
My friend Julie can literally teach her son Max new words in about five minutes. She repeats the word a few times and then asks him to say it. And without fail, he parrots it back and within a day or two is using it correctly and spontaneously on his own. And my heart would HURT, y'all, because I would try the same thing with Noah for hours and days on end with no results. I didn't understand what I was doing wrong, or even worse: I didn't understand what was wrong with Noah.
The short answer is that I was not approaching language in a way that worked for Noah, and duh, there was NOTHING wrong with Noah except that he is Noah and not Max. Noah needs repetition of sounds, not words. He is hesitant to try new sounds, and without mastering new sounds there is simply no way he can attempt new words. Max has a natural knack for mimicry, while Noah is fighting those underdeveloped mouth muscles, so we were frustrating him with our constant requests to "say plane! can you say plane?" He couldn't say plane because he couldn't make the P sound, and why should he work so hard on the P sound when he can just call a plane a "na" and get his point across?
So life in our home is now life with that guy from Police Academy who did all the sound effects. Everything makes a sound. Whoosh! Crash! Zip! Pop! Everything is BIG and EXAGGERATED. When we blow bubbles we jump on them and run after them and yell POP at the top of our lungs. Noah thinks this is HILARIOUS, and I swear to God, 15 minutes after his first therapy session I managed to get him to say POP along with me. We'd gone through probably 17 bottles of bubbles in his little life and yet it never occurred to me to focus on POP instead of BUBBLE.
(He says bubble now too. *headsmack*)
We also hold words back from him. Everything is a fill-in-the-blank quiz, and instead of rushing to give him the word (provided it's something we know he knows already), we stay silent and wait for him to say or sign it. If he can't, we wait for him to look at us before we say it. The best time to do this is when we're reading a familiar book or singing a familiar song.
For example: Noah knows Goodnight Moon by heart, but we used to hold him on our lap, facing away from us. We would say the word ("Goodnight...light") and he would point to the correct object on the page. Great for cognition, but it's a lousy approach for communication.
Now we read it facing each other. We say, "Goodnight...." and wait for him to volunteer the next word. If he doesn't, we wait until he's looking at our face. "Light." That way he's watching our lips form the word. Sure, there's something not so cozy about reading books standing up while Noah sits on the changing table, but hey, kids love thinking they know something you don't, so if pretending that I have no damn clue whether the little house or the young mouse comes next gets Noah to talk, so be it.
Part the Fourth: Sign Language & Me & My Mea Culpa
Yes, we probably all remember me and the Bilingual Sign Language Genius Child at Gymboree and how her pushy, over-achieving mother bugged me. Yes, we all know that I was very wrong and mean and yes, of course I have wondered if pursuing baby sign language early on might have saved us from a lot of stress and frustration. I feel terrible that I let my own prejudices against the type-A supermoms keep me from trying out something that Noah clearly connects with and benefits from.
It's another example of how having any type of parenting "belief" is often a one-way ticket to parenting folly. If you wholeheartedly subscribe to a particular approach -- be it co-sleeping, CIO, extended breastfeeding, spanking, whatever -- I can pretty much guaran-goddamn-tee that you will birth a child who will end up benefiting from the polar opposite of what you believe is the "right" way to do things.
But what's done is done. The important thing is that Noah is picking up more and more signs every day and all I have to do is ask him if it's signing time (move your index fingers in a circle, point at invisible watch) and he jumps up and down and runs to the TV and starts flapping his hands and fingers all over the place. It's like the ASL equivalent of jabberwocky.
Some assvice about Signing Time:
1) If your child is over 12 months, skip the Baby Signing Time DVDs and go directly to My First Signs. Noah was beyond underwhelmed by Baby Signs, which is very tinkly and quiet and features babies doing the signs, but was instantly hooked on the regular series, which has catchier music and bigger kids. Noah LOVES bigger kids. Bigger kids are worth imitating. (I'm giving the Baby Signs DVDs to a friend with a newborn, and I'm sorry to every woman who will ever have a baby within my social circle: You are getting Signing Time DVDs and a panty, wild-eyed sermon from me.)
2) Watch the DVDs with your kid, brainiac. Don't put a new DVD on and walk away, because your child will later start signing something that he learned from that DVD and you'll be all...uhhhh... Not that this...happened...to me...or anything.
3) It takes Noah about three viewings before I start seeing new signs. He'd certainly be happy just watching My First Signs over and over and over again, but since we have the whole set I feel obligated to switch it up. Plus I might shoot myself if I have to listen to the Silly Pizza song again. We watch one DVD a day, right after his nap. I always do the signs, and then I tap his chest to indicate "Noah's turn" and give him the chance to try. Like his speech, he generally doesn't try new signs until he feel he can do them perfectly (I've caught him practicing alone in his room, using his picture books) (*bites knuckle from the adorableness*). The signs he picks up the fastest are the ones I use the most, so be ready to use signs whenever possible and to nag your significant other about using them too, because COME ON, DON'T MAKE ME THE ONLY IDIOT OVER HERE.
Now I have a question for...hmmm...well, for the four people who have probably made it this far without falling asleep. Noah wants more signs. We haven't made it through the entire DVD collection since I don't want to overwhelm him, but in just day-to-day life he is constantly gesturing that he wants to know the sign for things that I label for him. Like, now that he knows the sign for milk, cheese, apple, banana and cracker, he wants the sign for pasta. And tomato. And rice. He knows the sign for car, but what about bike? That's a bike, Mama, not a car. We're definitely not at finger-spelling yet, and I am clueless. Is there a good book or online resource where I can look signs up that aren't on the DVDs? And quickly? And possibly on an iPhone?