I’ve touched here and there on my blog about Matthew’s speech, and I’ve meant to do a post on it, but time just gets away from me. This may be boring to some, interesting to others, but reality for us.
Matthew’s speech has been something that has always been top-of-mind for me because all of our nephews, on both sides of our families, have had delayed, or severe problems with their, speech. Even before Matthew could babble, I worried that speech would be a challenge. I remember with my older sister’s son, he never made consonant sounds as a baby. This didn’t dawn on them until his doctors were asking those questions later on when they realized that there was a problem – and they realized that there were tell-tale signs that his speech was going to be delayed all along. When I met B, his nephew was 3 years old and could hardly say anything at all. All he could do was grunt with different inflections to help people understand what he wanted. I remember him grunting one way to say, “Grandma,” and another way to say, “Grandpa.” Witnessing this, I became very worried for our future children because it seemed that serious speech problems existed on both sides of our family.
And they did.
My sister’s son had a very severe speech problem which was described as “verbal dyslexia” and he was in intensive speech therapy for years. He could not say “pig,” but could say “piggy.” His “one” came out as “NO,” and most of what he said was not understandable. He had his own language that not even his parents understood. B’s nephew started speech therapy at 18 months of age and around the age of 4, finally started saying some coherent words. My sister’s youngest daughter followed along with speech problems and my younger sister’s son ended up on the low-end of normal for speech, where he remains today.
Our kids were doomed.
Or so I thought.
Because of this, poor Matthew has had his speech development under my microscope since the day he was born. I was so relieved when Matthew hit all of his speech milestones as a baby (muttering his B’s, M’s, G’s, etc.) that I let his speech drift more to the middle of my mind. But speech became a concern for us again around the age of 18 months when there were few words that he would say. The words he did say were crystal clear (MoM, DaD, Car, TruCK, duCK), but he didn’t have a lot of words. Our pediatrician told us that he could easily “get it” by the time he turned 2, and to not worry. So we didn’t… well… B didn’t worry. I did. I didn’t worry a lot, I just kept a list of words and tried not to be obsessed with that list.
At Matthew’s 2 year check-up, his pediatrician asked us about speech and I said I had concerns, and B said he didn’t. When the doctor asked if strangers would understand 50% of his words, I said, “oh yes!” as B said, “um, NO!” B’s response got us a referral to a private speech therapist for an evaluation. Huzzah!
But Matthew tested on the low-end of normal which meant insurance wouldn’t pay for services (of course they wouldn’t). The speech therapist told me that I’m not crazy, that he is delayed, but that he’s not delayed enough. GAH! I was told to bring him back in December of this year (when he’s 30 months old) because she expected that he would fall out of the normal range by then, leading to services provided by our insurance.
We were then in B’s home town at a local toy shop when I started chatting with a gal who worked there. She was our parents’ age and was a speech pathologist. Of course I picked her brain and she agreed with me that Matthew had some delays and encouraged me to call the public school system for “early intervention” services. I called them the following Monday and had an evaluation setup. I felt like we were getting somewhere.
The school system brought out a team of people to evaluate everything – not just speech. They evaluated his speech, his fine motor skills, his gross motor skills, his cognitive skills, and his behavior. They told me that they would do a follow-up meeting with me on their findings, but right then and there said that he would be getting services for speech. I WAS THRILLED! Someone was finally going to help us! I almost cried.
A month later, the team returned to our home (they provide all services in our own home so that the kids are comfortable and as chatty as possible) and went through the details of their findings. Matthew was well within normal ranges for all things but speech. They wanted him to score between 90 and 110 for all categories and for everything but speech, he scored 100. But for speech, he scored a 65. Many parents would be devastated by this, but I was just so happy to be getting help, that I nodded along and waited for them to tell me the game plan. I always knew that there was a speech delay, so this was not surprising nor upsetting for me. I just wanted to move forward!
Two weeks later, the speech therapist came to our home to get Matthew started. Her name is Kim, and she’s wonderful. B and I were both there to hear what we can do to help, and to watch her work with him so that we can try many of the same things. Kim told us that we need to force Matthew to talk by not giving him what he wants until he says a word that correlates with his desires. This is HARD to do. When Matthew pulled on B to come play, Kim said to be his voice for him and say, “Matthew says, ‘play, Dad.'” Until Matthew would say, “play,” we weren’t to go play. This went on for a long time, and Matthew got rather upset, so Kim told us that if we could get him to mimic an action for us (like tapping his head), that we could then relent and give him what he wants if we know he’s not going to talk. But when he wants to play the next time, to start over with being his voice and trying to force him to talk.
The tip of, “being the voice of Matthew,” has been so helpful to us. When he plays basketball, we say, “Matthew says, ‘your turn, Mom,'” Matthew will then say, “go, Mom!” We do this for almost everything. The one thing we worked super diligently on, though, was a word for when Matthew is hungry. He will come and grab our hand and take us to the fridge, making an “mmmm mmmm” sound. We would say, “Snack, Mom,” and he would just get mad. Kim told us that it could take up to two weeks for him to realize that talking will get him what he wants, so we just kept on doing it.
About 4 days after we met with Kim, Matthew said, “Snack!”
We have repeated this for many things and it works! We are the voice of Matthew, and we are “giving him the words.”
Kim told us that we are not to quiz Matthew – that we are to point to things and tell him what they are, and then simply say, “your turn.” She pointed out that when you ask, “What’s that? What’s this?,” any child will repeat back what they heard. And what did they hear? “This.” “That.” Matthew’s best words are, “this,” and “that.” Now we know why! This makes so much sense, yet all this time, we had no idea! We have shared this little nugget with friends with young kids and they’re seeing changes in their own kids. Amazing!
Matthew wasn’t having much of talking after Kim’s first visit. We continued to be his voice, but his own voice was still pretty quiet. In the time it took Kim to return (2 weeks), Matthew gained 10 new words. We were beyond thrilled with those 10 words, but he was still being pretty stubborn with us. He got to the point that he would put his hand to my mouth and say, “NO!” when I’d be his voice for him. HA! This behavior completely supports Kim’s assessment that there is nothing “going on in his brain” (those are my words, not hers) causing Matthew to not talk – but rather – that he is just a bit lazy. He was getting what he wanted without having to talk, so he had no incentive to talk.
Kim’s second visit was amazing! She had Matthew talking and interacting with her, doing everything she asked, the entire time she was here. He gained two new words just working with her in 30 minutes (“pop” and “block”). Matthew stayed 100% engaged with Kim and only tried to take a break to play basketball (“ba-a-ball”) twice, which is great for him. Kim did a lot of turn taking with Matthew (holds up a puzzle piece and says what it is, then says, “your turn”) and he really liked that. Every time he would repeat the word, Kim would say, “good talking,” or “I like your talking,” etc. I took a lot of mental notes and have been doing what she was doing almost constantly throughout our days.
Matthew has gained 19 new words since last Thursday! NINETEEN! We play with puzzles and take turns saying the words. All we have to do is say, “your turn,” and he tries to say whatever it is we just said. It’s amazing. It’s truly amazing! Everyone told me that Matthew would just “get it one day,” and that seems to be the case, but it’s not really the case. We had to work for it. We had to learn how to teach him. We had to learn how to communicate with our child to encourage his speech development.
There is still plenty of work to do. Matthew’s words are understandable to us, and about 25% understandable to others. Only once have we not understood what he was saying, and after much thought on my part, I figured out what he wanted and he was so happy that I understood him (he wanted his red CG book, so asking for “George” wasn’t enough but we weren’t getting the red part of the request). He wants to be understood. He wants to communicate with us and with his friends.
Halloween has been a special time, a time that I will NEVER forget. We went trick or treating last night and on the way out the door, I knelt down and said, “Matthew, we say, ‘trick or treat.’ Your turn.” And he said it! He said it to every person we visited, and even said it to the buckets of candy waiting on the stoops of those who were out trick-or-treating with their own kids. Matthew also learned “thank you” at the first house we visited and said it to everyone we met after that. I have tried for so long to get him to say, “thank you,” and all I had to do was follow it up with, “your turn.” HA! And tonight, Halloween night, Matthew said his name for the first time. He pointed to B and said, “Dad.” Then to me, “Mom.” Then to himself and he made an “mmmm” sound (which he’s been doing when he points to pictures of himself). So on a whim, I said, “Matthew. Your turn.”
And he said, “Matthew.”
B and I looked at each other, amazed, and cheered for Matthew for saying his own name for the very first time!
And I left the room to add it to his list of new words.
And I cried!