Say That Again: Giving Your Child The Gift of Voice

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By Leslie Lindsay

Making a list and checking it twice?  Your child may have all of the cars and trucks, dolls, & love, but don’t forget to give one very important gift: the gift of speech. 

Your child was given to you as a wonderful and miraculous gift to tend to and raise, and impart life’s lessons to.  But your child also brings much to your life: laughter, love, joy, and…well, baffling questions and concerns.    (image source:http://www.sheknows.com/kids-activity-center/print/dear-santa-list)

When my daughter was given the diagnosis of childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), I had little idea what that really meant, or how I could help.  Aside from the fact that I would be schlepping my daughter to and from speech therapy, I was dumbfounded.  I shrugged, rolled up my (elf) sleeves and accepted the challenge; I would give my daughter the gift of voice—even if I didn’t know how. 

Of course, the pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP) we worked with privately for the next few years, coupled with the special-education preschool Kate attended five days a week really helped her thrive, socially and academically.  I wasn’t carrying the brunt of apraxia alone, yet at times it felt that way.  It really does take a village to raise a child.  Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons, insights, and therapy ideas that may also help you along your apraxia journey.  Think of them as small glitter-wrapped packages under your tree; a toolset for apraxia. (image source: http://www.centsationalgirl.com/2011/11/in-the-spotlight-matthew-mead/)

glitter ribbon wrapped gifts matthew mead

          Here are a few things you need to keep in mind as your “golden rules” in working with your child with CAS:   

  • Have your child repeat, repeat, repeat! Movement repetitions build strong motor planning/programming/gestures. Can you say that again?
  • Provide lots of opportunities throughout the day to get your child to talk or vocalize—about anything.Your child will begin to see that communication is indeed a fun part of life.  What color is that dog?  Is the cup big or small? 
  • Be goofy and funny. If you are relaxed and your kiddo is relaxed, words will come easier.  Ask nonsensical questions to elicit a response, give silly options.
  • Make talking and speech practice more about your lifestyle and less about “sit and speak” time.  In this sense, you “work it in” to your routine.
  • Team up with your SLP. Have her give you ideas for homework and report back to her. Let her know what your child does well at home and see if it works as well in the clinic. Think of your SLP-parent-kid connection as a circle with no beginning and no end; make it appear as if you are driving a fancy automatic car—smooth and effortless, even if it’s really a jumpy 5-speed jeep.
  • The more talking feels like work, the less willing your kid will be to do it.
  • Imitation is huge, too. “Can you say what I say?” Try it. If imitation is too hard, try doing it in unison. Remember all of the chanting our grandparents did in school for memorization? Even singing the ABC song is a form of imitation in the form of chanting memorization. 
  • You are mom or dad first. You do not need to become your child’s speech-language pathologist. Kids are smart. They will know what you’re up to and won’t participate if you act too much like their SLP. 
  • Your goal is to complement your SLP’s efforts in your own home. Talk to your SLP about a reasonable amount of home practice. This will also depend on the age of your child. As one apraxia parent named Mike shared, “An SLP is like a personal trainer at the gym. You go, your trainer works with you for an hour and teaches you things to do on your own, but it’s up to you to do the rest.” 

Once you have a good sense of these basics, it’s time to start incorporating moments in your daily routine which will help your child see that communication is indeed important and valuable.  No worries, you don’t have to do anything fancy or special.  Most of these ideas are free, or low-cost. Chances are, you already have a lot of toys, materials, and props at home that will spark your creativity.  Remember, just about any toy or object can be used as a “therapy” tool. 

The “gifts:” 

  • Have a family game night. Traditional favorites will do the trick.The speech payoffs here: turn-taking, counting, requesting, being a good sport, and other communication opportunities.   
  • Visit your public library. Let your child find some books of interest and then read them to her. Speech payoff: child-directed learning, introduction to new vocabulary, 1:1 time with you in which you are modeling pronunciation and articulation. You might even hear some sounds or word approximations from your child! 
  • Experience and connect with nature. Speech payoff: identify and describe what you see, hear, and smell. Think holistically—this is more than just a walk in the park.  (image source: http://www.roundmidnightmusic.co.uk/page5.htm)

  • Exercise by biking or sledding, walking, or swinging. Speech payoff: vocalizations and words are often heard with movement.  Exercise also increases self-confidence, which these kiddos need more than anything. Children with CAS often crave movement. 
  • Do some art. Speech payoff: Besides the 1:1 time all kids need, it also unleashes creative potential and gives you something to talk about: “What color should we make the tree?” Practice saying “tree” or “green” while you’re at it.  tree pine(image source: http://zoe1297.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/not-pointing-fingers/tree-pine/)
  • Listen to music. Speech payoff: Kids need physical movement, and what better way to get them to move than with some rockin’ tunes? Encourage singing; even if they can’tget the lyrics out, they can hum along. Plus, music has a positive effect on mood—even yours!  
  • Bake cookies or cupcakes. Speech payoff: identify ingredients as you toss them into the bowl, have your child repeat the words (flour, sugar, butter, etc.) if she is able, talk about shapes as you roll out sugar cookies. Share your cookies with friends and neighbors and let your child do some of the talking—if possible—when the two of you deliver the goodies. It can be as simple as saying, “cookie” or “bake”–even an approximation will do.   (image source: http://www.life123.com/parenting/young-children/cooking-with-kids/teaching-the-joy-of-baking-to-kids.shtml)

And when it’s all said and done (yes, pun intended), you can sit back and be proud, not just of your child—but of your efforts as a parent as well.  Who knew you had it in you?!  Thanks for giving your child the gift of a lifetime; the gift of speech. 

Bio: Leslie Lindsay is a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic.  Her daughter, Kate is in 2nd grade and recovering from CAS.  Kate's Tooth! 004

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