My first child, who is a boy, has a speech delay. We noticed his delay around his first birthday but didn’t think too much of it. My husband and I are introverts so the shyness he was portraying was not all that out of the ordinary to us. My son also knew everything we told him to do. From getting his shoes to putting his cup away, we would say a command and he would follow through. From such an early age, he was an observer. He watched others and then later when he was alone, he would re-perform them. I remember him watching my husband tie his shoes to later see my son go to the closet, get a pair of shoes with shoe laces and begin to fiddle with the strings.
We really started to notice the speech delay as he approached age 2. The other children in daycare with him were talking a lot more and more clearly. Our sitter would say things to me about his delayed speech and again I’d chalk it up to his introversion and the fact that all the other children at daycare with him had older siblings. One day, while picking up my children after work, my sitter brought it up yet again. I began looking into my options of speech therapy that night.
I started with Help Me Grow, a state based, support program that offers services to children whose development may be delayed. The next week a professional come out to give our son a free evaluation. Unfortunately, because my son was so receptive, he did not qualify for the program. They did point us to some other pediatric services here in the city that could help. We ended up getting an evaluation done for my son at ABC Pediatric Therapy and started speech therapy once a week.
My son has since moved on from therapy, but during the whole process, I was there with him for every session. Part of each session, the therapist worked with me, the parent, to teach ME tips to help my son. The thing about this whole process that struck me the most was that I could have aided in my son’s speech development from early on if I would have known just a few basic things about how to talk to my child. These tips may seem silly or second nature to most. You may even judge me after reading this post, and that’s ok. To be honest, after all of my sessions with the therapist, the feeling of silliness came over me as these are such simple tips that I had not even thought about.
I’d like to share my experience and the lessons I’ve learned with speech delay, in hopes that it may help someone else out there with similar concerns.
Eight tips for helping your child overcome speech delay:
Talk during play
If you are an introvert and work outside the home, you are most likely mentally exhausted by the time you get home. Force yourself to get on the floor and play with your child. There were so many times I would sit on the floor with my son, exhausted and move the cars back and forth, quietly. Instead, force yourself to talk. “Look the yellow car needs to go get gas. Here’s the gas station. Yellow car, it’s time to get gas. Drive over to the gas station. Now drive home. It’s time for dinner.”
When asking your child what they want (to eat for example), don’t just open the pantry or the fridge and say, “Do you want this?” while pointing to an object. Instead ask, “Do you want cheese?” “Do you want crackers?” My son’s favorite word was “this” and that’s because my husband and I used it for everything. It seems simple, but was a hard habit to break.
Talk (a lot) during games/puzzles.
When playing with your child (a game for example), ask him who’s turn it is. Make him say the name of the person. When it’s his turn, make him say, “My turn” and when he needs the dice or spinner make him say, “spinner please”.
Please and Thank You’s
Follow everything you say with a “please” or “thank you.” These extra words get them into the rhythm of manners but it’s also a few extra words that they can add to a sentence. The more they talk, the better.
Read, read, and then read some more
I’ll admit, I was bad at this with my first. We wouldn’t read very often to my son, mostly because he wouldn’t sit still to read an entire book. The tip I learned is that you don’t have to actually read the book to them; point out objects and colors and shapes in the book you are reading. My son needed reading to be more interactive. What’s funny is now all my son wants to do is read. He’s older and understands the stories better now than when he was one year old. Modify the book to your child’s age.
Create Weekly Focus Words
Chances are there are multiple words your child doesn’t say well. Each week, pick out 3-5 words (3 if your child is younger, 5 if older) and focus on those words each day for a week. Once your child’s vocabulary increases, so will his/her speech. Sound out the words for them and make your child repeat you syllable by syllable until they master it. For the words they master within that week, set them aside and bring them back up in a few weeks to make sure their tongue has remembered how to put those sounds together. For the one’s they are having trouble with, keep for the next week while you add on new words.
Know when to stop
Don’t let your child get frustrated. I’ve found that my child does best practicing his key words in a car or in the morning. During the night he was too tired and exhausted and would get frustrated easily. Don’t let them get frustrated to the point they will resent practicing.
Practice where your child thrives
Lastly, don’t make your kid sit classroom style, and practice words – that is, unless he thrives in that situation. With my son, I had to take him outside and we would throw rocks and every rock he threw he had to say a practice word. It kept him engaged.
I encourage every parent whose child may be showing signs of speech delay to reach out to their pediatrician. And know that there are steps that you can take as a family.