Having a Child with Speech Delays

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No parent wants to admit that their child isn’t perfect. However, none of us want our children to enter school behind the other kids or to be struggling when they enter school. A child who is speech delayed knows what they want, but lacks the ability to communicate that with his or her parents, which can frustrate everyone. Both my sons are speech delayed – Connor was only speaking around a dozen words at the age of 2, and Kyle is 2 and non-verbal. He understands pretty much everything we say to him, but so far, he’s chosen to remain the silent party in conversation. Why? We don’t know. However, having been through it with Connor, I knew exactly what to do this time around. Knowing what to do not only serves to make the process a little less scary, but also allows you to get a jump on the situation.

If you notice your child isn’t making milestones at the typical ages most children do, talk to your pediatrician. Another great source for making sure you aren’t missing anything by joining Babycenter.com and entering your child’s info – they’ll send you an e-mail every few weeks or so with the milestones you can expect your child to reach next, and they are a virtual font of information on early childhood development.

teachingchildrenThe next step is to get in touch with Early Intervention. In Massachusetts, it’s run by the Kennedy-Donovan Center. Your pediatrician can give you contact information for the Early Intervention program in your area. Early Intervention runs from birth to age 3, and will help your child reach those developmental milestones¬† your child may be lacking in. They typically will come to your home once a week and work with your child. At the age of 2 1/2, they refer your child to the local developmental preschool. The preschool will perform an evaluation to determine if your child needs their services, and if so, your child will enter preschool at age 3, regardless of when that is during the year (Connor’s birthday is in January, so he started in February). Don’t be afraid to ask questions in regards to what happens next, or what your therapists think about the problems your child is having – that’s what they are there for, and any answers you get can only help you and your child in the long run.

As a parent with a developmentally delayed child, the most important things you can do are to 1) listen to the suggestions your Early Intervention therapists make; and 2) work hard to figure out the way your child learns best. If children are non-verbal, try to get them to look at you when you speak to them – either by holding whatever toy you’ve been playing with up by your face, or whatever draws their attention to you when you speak. Very often, children who are late talking are missing the eye contact part – and this is a very important social cue that we older folks tend to take for granted. As much as 80% of what we communicate we do through our eyes and body language. Play repetitive games with them and say the sounds the toys make, or the sounds of the animals on the puzzle pieces…just keep talking and trying to get them to look at you when you do. For older children, figure out how they remember things best. For Connor it was visual aides and short lists of steps or rules (no more than 3 or 4). I would go over the short list with him, raising a corresponding finger for the number of the rule/step, and we would repeat it until he got them right by himself, then daily, then only a reminder as needed. Now that he’s 7, this process still works with him and makes helping him adjust to new social situations and what’s expected much easier (he’s still a little socially behind, but not by much).

I’m not sure about other developmental preschools, but ours is amazing. They have a split attendance, with 1/2 of the kids needing services, and 1/2 who don’t. They were phenomenal with helping Connor develop his speech and in preparing him for kindergarten. He enjoyed going there so much that even though he’s now in 1st grade, he still tells me he misses Miss Ellen and his preschool!

I know this whole process can be scary and stressful, but you are doing what’s best for your child and helping them get ready to enter this big wide world of ours. I am also happy to report that at 7-years-old (and after some rough spots in kindergarten), Connor is excelling academically – even in reading, writing and spelling!

So, hang in there, once your child grasps talking and the wonders that come with it (like being able to ask for something and have it given to them), things will get easier.


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