Monday, 2 November 2015

Overcoming Speech Delays - Tips and Resources

I have mentioned in passing a few times over the past few months that Miss K is having issues with her speech. The issue actually goes a bit deeper than just a few issues, and it has been something we have been dealing with for over 2 years now. Miss K has made great progress in that time, but it has been a rocky road, full of frustration and tears for her, and sleepless nights for me. In order to hopefully save someone a whole lot of heartache that comes with speech delays, I have managed to compile a list of tips and resources that have helped us enormously over the past two years, and I am sharing them with you now.

One thing I found when I first thought there were issues with Miss K's speech was that there was a very large lack of resources for parents online. Everything I found gave the same information, strengthen her mouth muscles with straws and lots of games, but it didn't tell me how I could correct the real issues, or even how to identify them. To this day I still don't know why Miss K never learned to talk the way most kids do. It certainly wasn't because she wasn't encouraged to talk at home, we had many fights over her first years as I tried to coax, beg or threaten words out of her to no avail. I felt hopeless and totally useless at my job. Eventually at her 2 year check up with the maternal health nurse I brought up the delays, hoping that our nurse would take us seriously, and she did. Although at the time speech pathologists were still refusing to help children until they were at least three years old, our local community medical centre was just beginning a program to help bridge the gap, so we took advantage of their services until Miss K was old enough to be referred to a speech therapist.

Miss K has been going to our speech therapist Chloe for almost 12 months now, and the difference in that little girl is more than just her speech. She is more confident, she is happier, she absolutely shines because for the first time in years she is understood by more people than just me. We have run the gamut of emotions during this time, from frustration to shame to confusion to pride to pure joy. It has been an absolute roller coaster, but we were recently told that Miss K is nearly at the point where she no longer needs speech therapy, and the relief is almost overwhelming. So to help other parents who are going through this lengthy and tiresome process, below are a few things I have found help enormously, as well as some websites where you can get further help.

Medical help
If you suspect there are issues with your child's speech, the first thing you will need to do is seek medical advice, to make sure there aren't any underlying issues that need to be addressed. We discovered that Miss K is tongue tied, which has contributed to some of her speech impediments, but not all, and this required a visit to a surgeon to assess whether she needed the tendons under her tongue cut. At the very least your doctor can refer you to a speech therapist if necessary to help you work through any issues with your child's speech. These days speech therapists have recognised that therapy can help from as young as two years old, so you can get help sooner rather than later these days.

Talking to and encouraging your child to speak
Talking to your child from birth is essential of course, firstly because it helps your child recognise you outside of the womb. Before they were born they heard your voice daily, so to hear them again once they are born lets them know they are with the person they have known their whole life. Then you become your child's example on how to speak as they get closer to the age of forming their first words, so the talking needs to be almost constant. But you also need to encourage them to talk too. Turn their first coos into full conversations to teach them that talking requires giving and receiving noise. But once you get past the first word (which is always dada for some darned reason) encouraging the next words can be difficult.  Repetition of simple words such as up or more, and teaching them that using these words cause things to happen encourages children to want to speak more. Remember that kids can process thoughts slower than adults do, so you will need to give them a few seconds of silence every time to process your request.  This website has further great tips on introducing speech to your toddlers

Learning through play
A lot of the websites I read through would say to encourage speech through play, but they didn't give real examples to start you in the right direction. For us, it was Miss K's home corner which was the real winner. Miss K and I would play restaurants or shops, and Miss K would need to tell me exactly what she wanted to buy or eat before I would give it to her. We'd swap roles regularly to keep the game fresh. Of course if your child is more into cars or dinosaurs, or dolls or whatever, you should build the games around whatever their favourite toys are. If your children are a bit older, using board games and cue cards is also another great way to build up their vocabulary or work on specific speech issues. We got several board games from Chloe to take home with us, complete with their own cue cards, and with every role of the dice Miss K needs to pick up a cue card and say the word or sentence on the card after she moves. This has been one of our most successful exercises, and the only one I have been able to use consistently, as once Miss K realises she's meant to be learning something with our exercises she loses interest. Incorporating play into the exercises makes the learning fun, and distracts children from the fact that this is actually work. Guess Who is also a fabulous game for encouraging speech, and one we now use a lot at home. Children's songs are also a great way to encourage speech, and I'm sure you all know about a million of them, so start singing with your kids. For more information on speech through play, check out this website here

Using printouts
Now days there are so many websites which offer free printable games and resources you can use at home to help your child with their speech issues. One of the first we used was given to us by Chloe, called Colorful Semantics. This is a program provided by London Speech Therapy and the printout can be found here. This program is great for teaching children to build sentences based on who, what, where, and it comes complete with pages of colourful pictures for your child to use in their learning, as well as complete and comprehensive instructions. You can also find printable games and activities online for you and your child to play, as well as cue cards, and a multitude of worksheets you can download and use any time.

Learning through videos
Youtube is full of great videos you can watch with your child to encourage talk. There are a lot of channels that are actually aimed at English as a second language, but Miss K loved them, especially the ones with lots of bright toys included in their videos. A great channel for learning is Baby Big Mouth which is aimed at teaching vocabulary and spelling to little learners.

Now I am by no means an expert when it comes to speech therapy, and getting your kids to talk. Which is why I love these following websites, because they are by experts, so if you need further help, these are a good place to start.

The Speel. As well as a ton of free resources that anyone can use, Alex at The Speel has just launched a new 8 week program called Incredible Little Communicators which you and your child can complete at home with support from Alex.

Playing with Words 365. Playing with Words 365 has a heap of free resources for parents, and lots of articles to help you work through finding a speech therapist, and what to expect once your child starts therapy. This is a great place for any parent to start their journey as she has resources to suit children from birth to age 5!

Free Language Stuff includes printable activities on 20 different areas of language, making this a great place to find activities to complete at home with your children to help build their language skills.

Mommy Speech Therapy. This is another great website full of free resources and printables you can use at home, and lots of advice for parents as well. I visit this website often and I love this woman.

Pinterest is another great place to look for resources, and a lot of speech pathologists are now filling the website up with heaps of helpful advice and places to start your journey.

If any of you out there are going through the same journey as me, and you have stories to share, please leave them down below, I love hearing from my readers, and it is always wonderful to hear you're not alone when dealing with the tough stuff. Also if you know of other resources I have missed here, also leave them down below, because the world is a great big place, so bring it all to me and we'll share it together.

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