Learning to communicate with words

Syona has hit a huge milestone — she’s using her words to communicate.

Syona plays with her Little People racetrack while practicing her speech.

“Syona go”

“Hungeee” (Hungry)

“Boo-ber-ees” (Blueberries)

“Call nanni” Nanni is what Syona calls her grandma (my mom).

“Mommy chan moooo” (Mommy change music).

These are just a few of Syona’s new favourite phrases. It was only a few months ago that we were exploring alternative and augmentative communication options. This is an all-encompassing term used to describe any method that replaces or supplements traditional speech and, at the time, we were trying to mentally prepare ourselves for the fact that there was a chance that Syona wouldn’t speak in the traditional sense.

But in the last few months we’ve seen Syona develop speech. I’m talking real words and word approximations (these are Syona’s own personal versions of words — see “boo-ber-ees” and “hungee” as per the above).

At the age of two-and-a-half she’s using her words to proactively communicate. She answers questions and also speaks her mind, telling us what she wants. She’s even started to combine two, and occasionally, three words together. This is a huge milestone for her and for us.

Since Syona has started talking more, she cries a whole lot less, which means our house is a lot more peaceful now.

So what contributed to Syona’s speech development? I think there are several factors at work:

Speech therapy: We got on the waitlist for speech therapy as soon as we could. We knew Syona was at a high risk for communication challenges so we decided to deal with it head-on. If you think there is any chance that your child might experience some delays, ask for a referral to your local speech and language program (Google where you live + ‘preschool speech and language’ to get an idea of who takes care of this program in your area). Syona’s therapists are great. She loves playing with them and is so motivated to show them her new skills.

Follow through at home: The therapy time is great, but it is never enough. But it is enough to teach us what to do at home. So we follow through regularly and consistently with what they tell us to do at home — label and model everything, give Syona time to respond, don’t accept grunts as communication and have her tell us when she needs help. We share our techniques with our family. They all spend a lot of time with Syona so it’s important that they try and use the same methods to encourage her speech. We also play games that help Syona develop speech. Her favourite speech-related toy is the Little People Wheelies Rev ‘n Sounds Race Track. I love sneaking therapy into play and this toy is an awesome find. Little People toys are great from an occupational therapy perspective because they fit in Syona’s little hands. We love to play “1, 2, 3, Go!” (Syona has to repeat each of those words) and talk about how the cars go up, on and into the garage. But the best part of speech therapy is that it’s just part of our everyday routine and you can use almost any toy or household item as long as you talk about it, label it and relate the words back to a function.

Syona: She’s getting older, more mature and even more motivated to interact, share and engage with others. She’s always been a pretty social kid, which is a great motivating factor. And she loves to talk (wonder where she gets that from?)!

I am always really excited to share these milestone developments via my blog. I know there are so many people rooting for Syona and all of this support goes a long way toward getting us through the tough days and helping us celebrate these milestones.

But I also have to share that kids who can’t talk in the traditional way, still have a lot to say. My friend Stacey has a son who uses a device to talk. She’s exploring what not being able to talk means for her life, her family and her son over on her blog. It’s honest and often inspiring.

Even though Syona’s talking now we don’t know what the future holds. What parent does? We aren’t sure if her speech will be clear enough to be understandable or that her progress will continue at the same pace. But I do know that there are so many options out there for her, and this gives me a lot of hope and brings me some peace on those sleepless nights.

When did your children start talking? How do you help them communicate?
 

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