Day 3: Speech

This is Day 3 in the series: 31 days on Living with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: What We Have Tried, What Has Worked, What Hasn’t Worked, and Never Giving Up.

As a baby Mr Rockstar seemed pretty normal.  On retrospection he required a lot of soothing but since he was my only baby and I was willing to nurse on demand and co-sleep we managed.  At 6 months old he would all out belly laugh at black and white pictures.  When he started walking, he would run in circles for hours and when he wasn’t running he was riding a little scooter all around the house.  He was always on the move.

Two year old Mr Rockstar still not talking.
Two year old Mr Rockstar still not talking.

Our first hint that something was off was when he was 18 months old and still not really talking.  He had no consistent words.  We were in denial for a while but finally at age 2 when he still didn’t have any words he started speech therapy once a week.  Immediately all the speech therapists said he had “sensory” issues.  Anytime we saw a new therapist within 15 minutes they would say the magic “sensory” word.  Mr Rockstar overstuffed his mouth, he always had to have a toy car in both hands at all times, he would go into meltdowns over getting wet or touching slimy textures (think any food), he hated socks and shoes, he liked mouthing non-food objects, he played overly rough for his age, etc.  They said all these issues pointed to sensory processing disorder.  I will discuss SPD in more detail tomorrow.

Things we learned about speech:

  • The average 15-18 month old should be saying several words and be able to point to familiar objects, people, and some body parts.
  • The average 2 year old should have about 50 words and be able to make two to three word sentences.
  • Most children catch up with their peers without any intervention by the time they reach Kindergarten.  Speech therapy is usually recommended because there is a small percentage of children that will just fall further behind without intervention and there is no way to know if your child is in the majority or minority in this respect.
  • As part of a 1986 mandate for Early Intervention, all states in the US are required to provide “screening and assessment; family training, counseling, and home visits; speech therapy; occupational therapy; psychological services; audiology services; vision services; social work services; and transportation.” for children delayed in any of these areas.  I wish we had known about this sooner!  For some reason not all pediatricians seem familiar with the early intervention/birth to 3 programs offered by each state.  Speech therapy is often times not covered by health insurance and it is so expensive out of pocket that was part of why we delayed starting Mr Rockstar in speech.  Once we found the state Birth to 3 program (thanks to a mommy friend!) Mr Rockstar started getting weekly hour long sessions in our house with a speech therapist.  We have lived in three different states with Mr Rockstar.  It has always taken a little bit of looking to find the early intervention services (they are called something different in each state) but they do all have services.  Once your child reaches PreK age the services switch to being through the public school.  You can utilize the services at the public school even if your child does not attend public school.  The only speech therapists we have used were the ones through the state program.  We have used the state occupational therapists as well as private ones.  If your child is delayed and getting services then they probably qualify for state funded preschool as well though we have always opted for private PreK for Mr Rockstar.
  • Speech therapists are awesome.  They mostly play with the child and focus on getting them to make certain sounds during play.  They start with easier sounds and progress to harder sounds.  There are some apps that the therapists use that one could use as a parent if desired.  Artikpic was the app his therapists used the most.
  • For Mr Rockstar, the first thing they encouraged was sign language.  They taught us that for a child learning to communicate is the first hurdle and since many of us tend to learn better when action is involved sign language would also help facilitate speech.  The great thing about sign language is I could physically take his hands and make the signs.  I could show him, then do it with him over and over.  Pretty quickly Mr Rockstar had a handful of the most important signs learned.  This helped a ton.
  • A 2 to 3 year old with NO words is a walking tantrum machine.  There were so many things that bothered or upset Mr Rockstar and he couldn’t communicate what it was in any way….all he could do is melt down.  On the one hand I could be empathetic.  If I couldn’t communicate and had a need or desire it would be very frustrating.  On the other hand as his parent I had to learn not to encourage the tantrums by immediately trying to guess what he wanted.  It was a really fine line of being empathetic yet firm.  I’m not sure we ever really got this balance right.
  • There were a lot of suggestions from friends about products they thought might help.  We tried different dvd’s and toys none of them seemed to help at all.  Save your money.
  • Once Mr Rockstar began trying to speak he still had an articulation (making sounds) and phonological (sound patterns) delay as well as cognitive (not understanding the words people were using, or using the wrong words such as he/she in a given context).  By age 5 he was caught up on phonological and cognition but still had a slight delay in articulation.  He probably still does have a slight delay but we were seeing so many therapists at this point we dropped speech for the time being.

One of the first questions that pops up when a child has a speech delay is if they might have a problem hearing.  We knew Mr Rockstar could hear us but some speech therapists pointed out he might be missing certain frequencies and this would make speech sound garbled to him.  So how do you do a detailed hearing test on a child that is virtually non-comminucative (and not very co-operative either)?!?  It turns out there are specially designed hearing tests for young children.  Here is a video clip that shows a hearing test similar to the one we had done on Mr Rockstar:

Essentially, they first train the kid that there will be an exciting light show when they hear a sound.  If they hear a sound on the right the light show will be on the right.  If they hear a sound on the left the light show will be on the left.  After the child is trained they then transition to only showing the lights AFTER the child has looked the correct direction.  So if the child hears nothing, they won’t look left or right and there will be no light show.  If they do hear something the lights light up and the child has it reinforced that something exciting will happen when they hear a noise.  It works quite well.  Mr Rockstar had his hearing tested at 2.5 years old and it came back perfectly normal.

I know I run into moms all the time who are concerned their child might have a speech delay but they are holding off on getting their child tested because there are family members who were “late bloomers” or for various other reasons.  It is so easy to get them evaluated by the state and then you can decided from there if you want to accept the services if your child qualifies.  I would encourage you if you have been waiting to go ahead and call!  It was well worth it and really started us on our journey of learning more about Mr Rockstar’s special needs.

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