Barclay spoke his first two-word phrase at around 18 months old. He was waving and said “Bye, Dada” as his dad left for work one morning. However, that would be the last time for a very long time we would hear Barclay utter a two word or even a one-word phrase. In fact, Barclay would regress in his speech to the point that he almost became nonverbal.
Barclay is my fourth child. His other siblings hit their developmental milestones on time. That fact, coupled with my 20 years of teaching experience, and I knew this was a red flag. I asked his pediatrician for a referral to a speech therapist for an evaluation. I also contacted early intervention, which in my state is called Early Steps. Waiting for these evaluations can be a lengthy process. Yet children have the most success the younger they are when they begin to receive intervention services. I began searching the internet for resources I could use immediately as I waited.
I found a great resource called Teach Me To Talk. It is run by Speech-Language Pathologist, Laura Mize. She posts Therapy Tip of the Week videos on YouTube, has guides and books she has written for families and therapists and has super informative podcasts and blogs. She is an absolute expert in giving fantastic and easy to implement ideas on how to help move a child along the continuum of language development. All of her suggestions focus on play. She encourages the use of fun and engaging things such as toys, books, and puzzles as therapy tools. Through her, I learned that children don’t just jump from being nonverbal to speaking. They need to master specific basic developmental skills long before they engage in talking. That starts with things like gestures and making simple sounds as well as being able to keep joint attention with another person. So while I waited for our evaluation, I started there. We did a lot of making sounds. The “vroom” of a car, the “moo” of a cow. I’d purposefully pull out engaging toys so we could work on that joint attention piece. We practiced pointing to objects on command. He still wasn’t speaking, but I began to understand how important those prerequisite skills were. I started seeing progress long before he ever had his first therapy session.
Once he had his evaluations, he was in fact delayed in both receptive language, which is what a child understands, and expressive language, which is what they can say. He also had other developmental delays such as fine motor skills, which is the ability to do things like pick up such small objects or use utensils. He began speech therapy and occupational therapy to work on these lagging skills. Barclay’s speech therapist soon discovered that his speech delay wasn’t just a delay. He had Childhood Apraxia of Speech or CAS. CAS is a motor planning disability where the child cannot properly produce sounds. It is common for children with CAS to have speech regressions. Often they learn a word or sound, then forget it and have to learn it again. Which meant, Barclay would have to work very hard to create and maintain intelligible speech.
It has been nearly two years since I first noticed Barclay having difficulty speaking. In addition to therapy, we also used sign language to help bridge the communication gap and that was a great help! Even though he still has a long way to go, he has made outstanding progress. I continue to learn all I can to help him. I still follow Laura almost every day and if she ever reads this I want her to know she has made a giant impact on not only the successes Barclay has made up to this point but also in helping me understand what to expect and how to help move him along in his language journey.
If your child has a speech delay, can you share a valuable resource you have used? Please leave a comment!
Hear me out. Just because I can’t speak doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to say. – Michelle Spray