Therapist to Parent & Back Again; Lessons Learned as an SLP Raising a Child with a Speech Impairment
The night before the scheduled surgery to place Pressure Equalization tubes in my daughter's ears, I sat and wondered, was I doing the right thing? I looked through the short list of words I had typed into my phone that she could say. There were 9 in all. Dada, Mama, kitty, me; they were good words, but at her age I knew, as a Speech-Language Pathologist, she should have more. For months before this night, my sweet baby had been caught in a vicious cyle of painful ear infections, followed by 10 days of antibiotics, a week or two of relief, and another infection. We ultimately discovered that residual fluid in the middle ear was the culprit. It just never drained.
A month after the surgery, I typed a new list of my daughter's spoken words. It was up to more than 50! Another month later, she had reached more than 250! I was so relieved. Little did I know, my speech therapy skills were about to be put to the test. The relatively short amount of time my daughter had spent with fluid in her ears resulted in a loss of exposure to one of the most important ways a child can learn speech; through listening. As she reached two-year-old status, I noticed that though my daughter was using lots of two-word utterances, she was less intelligible than she should be. Enter Mama SLP!
I'll admit, to begin with, I thought it would be a cinch to correct my own child's speech impairment. I already had more than 8 years of experience under my belt as a Speech-Language Pathologist. How hard could it be? Wow, was I in for a rude awakening. It was at this time in my life as a parent that I learned the most about what my families are dealing with and now I am able to use that knowledge to help my parents through this process. Here are some tips for working with your child:
*Choose your battles: Neither parent nor child is going to benefit from working on speech errors all day every day. Everyone needs a break, especially the child who is trying to make difficult changes in habituated speech patterns. I often tell parents to pick 1-2 times per day for no more than 5-10 minutes to work on speech. That means, in the car on the way to school, at the dinner table, while outside playing with you, or during story time before bed.
*Make it silly: Most young kids won't sit at a table very long for therapy, and mine won't sit for any length of time with me, her mother. So switch it up! Offer silly, crazy rewards for good speech. When using flashcards, I'll throw them up in the air when the child produces our target sound, or save them up and have a flashcard snowstorm! You could have a race with cars every 5 turns or so, or make some other super cool thing happen, whatever is motivating to your child. You'll be surprised how much of a difference this makes. Kids love fun! Who knew?
*Whoop it up!: Parents are the most influential people in a child's life. Your child craves your attention and approval, so give it to him! When Billy says the /p/ sound correctly, act like he just made the most amazing sound you've ever heard! Tell him how proud you are, and acknowledge that what he is doing is not easy, and he is acing it! Your child will light up, feel proud about what they are doing, and keep working hard at it. Steer clear of negativity. It will get you nowhere and delay your progress.
*Give yourself a break: Changing patterns of speech is a marathon, not a sprint, so settle in and be patient with your child and yourself. Follow the guidelines provided by your SLP, do your homework, and stick to it. Before you know it, you'll be noticing that Jane is starting to self-correct that /r/ sound all by herself in conversations with you, or that Jack is using visual cues on his own to help him produce the /k/ sound. It will come. Remember parents, you are the most important members of the team. The Speech-Language Pathologist only works with your child for a short period of time each week. You have the hardest and most important job of carrying out therapy the rest of the time. You're a rockstar! I can say this, because I have been there, and you really deserve a pat on the back!
Hang in there Mom and Dad! You've got this!
(Robyn Hillison, M.A., CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist in Tallahassee, Florida and owner of Capital Speech & Language Therapy Services LLC, a private practice that provides in-home, daycare, and private school services to children ages 0-18 years of age. For more ideas and information, visit us at www.capitalspeechlanguagetherapy.com, or on facebook at www.facebook.com/CapitalSpeechLanguage)