This post is a long time coming & far too long overdue…Elena’s speech. For those of you who have parented a toddler, remember when they were a year or so old & started saying words & then sentences…remember how exciting that was? In a nut shell, that is where Elena & I are now. A difference being that since Elena is so much older; her thoughts are that much more complex. It’s unbelievable what she comes up with. She has been a sponge these last 2+ years, taking everything in & now that she’s becoming able to express herself, it’s amazing to know what is going on in her head! It is so exciting to be able to understand (most of the time) what Elena is trying to say & she is really coming out of her shell as she gains confidence in her ability to communicate.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we were enrolled in a program through our provincial Early Words initiative that ran from last September (2013) thru December. Elena was thoroughly evaluated & identified as having an expressive language speech delay. The purpose of the program was really more about teaching me, as her parent, how to better facilitate her being able to develop her speech. I learned a great deal about speech development. I know I didn’t cause her speech delay but I realized how, in many ways, I made it so much harder for Elena.
In the program I learned many techniques. I learned that I needed to let Elena lead the conversation or play by Observing, Waiting & Listening. I realized how important it was for me to get down on her level & play face to face. I learned that I needed to identify objects in a way that made it easier for her to imitate. Me saying, “That’s a ball” was too much. She needed to hear, “Ball” so she could imitate that more successfully; then later adding descriptions, “Blue ball”. It was important for me to change how I spoke to her to. I knew she could indicate yes or no so I would phrase all my questions so she could answer this way. This did nothing to help her speech development. I had to make the conscious effort to ask open ended questions & also offer her choice so she’d have to articulate an answer. Every situation became an opportunity to encourage her speech development.
Because Elena had, on her own, developed her own signs & gestures to express what she was trying to say, I was encouraged to teach her signs. I will admit that when the pathologist made this suggestion, in my head I was extremely frustrated. I was looking for Elena to learn to speak & felt that teaching her signs would be a step backwards. Why would she try to speak if she could just sign? But I know I’m not the expert so I taught Elena the first 3 signs the pathologist advised, Milk, Juice & Water. Well lo & behold, didn’t Elena attempt to speak the words as she signed! I was hooked! We download the My Smart Hands app & were on our way. I’ve already mentioned how she would play with the app on her own & teach herself signs!
I was thoroughly amazed at the progress Elena made but I thought that we’d go through this program & Elena would be “cured” & we’d be on our merry way. That’s obviously not how this works…once the program ended, we had to be placed on the waiting list for further services. I was told we here near the top. We saw the speech pathologist, Ms. D, who ran the program, a few times after but her caseload was full & she couldn’t take on Elena for the amount of service Elena really needed. I am grateful, however, that Ms. D advocated for Elena to get the services she did need.
You see, I learned that you really have to be the squeaky wheel…but I really don’t like to be squeaky. I get really anxious when I have to “nag” people about things. I hate having to make repeated phone calls saying, “You said you’d do such & such…how’s that coming?” But Elena needed me to…I could see what a struggle it was for her to have so many big ideas in her head & have them blocked by her inability to express them. You could see the wheels turning as she tried to make you understand what she was thinking…then the look of utter defeat when she realized you just didn’t get it. What we had learned in that first program had taken us this far…but she needed more.
So I sucked it up…I got over myself & made those nagging phone calls. Every two weeks I would call Ms. D asking if there was any news on getting Elena services. She in turn would contact the powers that be & remind them that my little girl needed help. We’d be told that Elena was at the top of the list & I would receive a call back within a week. Then 2 weeks would go by without any word. I knew Elena was at a critical juncture. She was trying so hard but the frustration was building. I was very afraid she would just give up. So I kept calling…
We just kept getting the run around. Ms. D would call the program, they would tell her Elena was at the top of their list & they would call me, I’d hear nothing & call Ms. D…I cannot tell you enough how grateful I am to Ms. D because she got tired of the loop before me & went pleading to the other pathologists in her own department. Thankfully Ms. K had an opening. She could take us on for 1 hour a week & even had a 4pm time slot so I would be able to attend.
We started with Ms. K in July. Her program takes what we previously learned a step further. She breaks down the common sounds in speech & starts there. She combined those sounds with gesture cues. I knew this would be successful based on Elena’s previous progress with her own gestures & the signs we learned. Now that Elena has practiced & learned these basic sounds, she is able to combine them into words & those words into sentences. She has gone from a vocabulary of maybe 20-30 words in July to well over 200 now as well as 4+ word sentences.
Elena & I have our homework every night. Ms. K gives us flash cards with words & pictures & I use the gesture cues for Elena to say the word. Every week our stack of cards grows larger. We also combine the cards to make small sentences. Ms. K is as amazed as I am with Elena’s progress. Often now I don’t even have to cue Elena, she sees the card & knows the word. Ms. K explained that this is early literacy. Not only is Elena learning to say words & sounds, this is also a first step to her learning how to read.
I was also amazed & surprised to learn that Elena knows how to count! She just didn’t have the words for the numbers. She can now clearly say numbers one to ten, with just a little trouble with six & seven but those are more complex sounds.
It is remarkable to see Elena blossom in this way, to really get to see her personality shining through. I’m also so very grateful that we got this help before she enters public school. If we’d waited until then, who knows how defeated & frustrated she’d have felt by then. I am so thrilled to be witness to this wonderful little girl come into her own!