Raising a child who has almost zero expressive language and struggles with handwriting skills isn’t easy. What’s the worst part? Not knowing all the things I’d love to know about my beautiful Zoe.
SILENCE ISN’T GOLDEN
While Amelia isn’t the best speaker, I’ve picked up on her cues and verbiage what she wants, desires, dreams of and loves. It’s way more challenging with Zoe.
The key to remember, though, is that in that silent kid IS STILL A KID WHO’S PROGRESSING.
That’s why this year has been such a blessing. Listening to what she does all day at school (in the form of long, wonderful notes from her aide) have taught me that inside that silent little girl is ….
-wait for it –
A TYPICAL 8 YEAR OLD!
She thinks doing math is not fair when she’d rather be singing or dancing or watching her favorite show. Just like her mom, she takes copious notes. She has the ability to watch and interact with non-entertainment lessons, like learning how to make sap or giving a presentation. Lacking speech makes it hard for her to share who she is with her family and friends, but progress can be made, in my opinion.
CAN SPEECH BE RECOVERED?
I think the biggest thing to realize is that it’s not about speech, it’s about communication. When I look at my daughter, I have very little doubt that she’ll ever enjoy talking as much as Amelia and I do, but that doesn’t mean she can’t communicate. Here are 9 ideas to help you give your child a voice:
1. Speech Therapy
The traditional route can get your child a good footing on what they need to learn. Of course, it’s all about the therapist, the motivators they use, the “fun” factor and the work your child is willing to input. Right now, we have a wonderful speech therapist at our school. Because we do much of the other stuff, we opted out of additional speech therapy, but I recommend you take all available therapies when your child is of preschool age. This, however, is a first step and it doesn’t work for all children with autism.
2. Music Therapy
Or, just music! I don’t know about you, but my daughter really responds to music she loves. One of the first words she said was, believe it or not, “Cinderella” – from the OPENING SONG OF THE CLASSIC MOVIE! (She also learned to spell it early so she could Google it and listen online.) Now, of course, there is organized music therapy which we’ve done in the past with an autism waiver, and music lessons at school, however, I feel like Zoe’s biggest benefit has come from just listening and trying to mimic songs she loves. So, yes, I WILL put up with another round of “Let It Go,” because it warms my heart to see her doing a hard listen so she can memorize the words that she sings!
3. Fish Oil Supplements and Biomedical Intervention
According to the Cherab Foundation, fish oil can improve speech disorders or delays in children. The essential fatty acids found there have been shown in studies to correlate with improved speech. I’m hoping they get the funding for a more in-depth study as they are looking into that. My kids were taking fish supplements earlier this year as a foundation for the homeopathic treatments we are now doing. You can also do it as part of biomedical intervention, which can be a long and sometimes complex process, so I recommend you explore this route with a qualified practitioner, such as a DAN! doctor. Here is one mother’s story of how this route helped her son speak.
Short for “Picture Exchange System,” this is a cost-effective way to give your child communication skills with boards and laminated images. I know there is training and highly advanced ways of using PECS, but for Zoe it not only gave her her first introduction to making available choices, but her first training in rewards and scheduling. It’s key to remember this is a communication tool rather than a speech-learning technique.
I can’t say enough nice things about this app, I only hope I can one day get a grant to use this software at home. It’s cost prohibitive for many ($219 as of this writing) and only available for iPad, but I recommend you call your local autism resources and try to qualify to get what you need. My daughter’s teacher told me that it’s so pricey because it ADAPTS to the way you use it. For example, it guesses common words you use before it finishes typing. Other brands do not have that capability. And for what it’s worth, what an amazing tool this is for young ones with autism in ALL areas of learning. The expert on this complex software school is – can you guess? Zoe! She knows it better than anyone, despite all their training. This tool actually does help her speak as she mimics letter sounds and word enunciation.
6. Sign Language/Hand Signals
At school, Zoe merely uses the sign for the letter “T” (for toilet) and her team knows she needs to go to the bathroom. I never had the strength or energy to fully learn/teach sign language, but there are many hand signals that Zoe and I use, that opened up a whole world for her. Use them with your child and teach them to your team.
7. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
This story at TACA caught my eye today – This little girl’s speech improved after she started HBOT. While a lot of people look at this as a snake oil treatment (in spite of the fact that athletes regularly use it), the fact is there is science behind this. Oxidative stress is a big problem for children with autism. HBOT helps to provide the oxygen their cells need and it seems like for some children, it improves speech. It’s again another pricey investment, though.
8. Homeopathy & Other Alternative Therapies
Yet again, Zoe’s speech has improved as we’ve gone forward with homeopathy, which seeks to heal cellular processes. Coincidence? I don’t think so, since we were on it, then off during the interim where we changed providers, and her speech fluctuated with it. That said, are there other therapies that work for speech too. For example, I’ve heard that The Tomatis Method worked wonderfully for some kids, but not for others. And detox is critical too. After all, Zoe’s social skills improved after we removed all dyes and preservatives, although I had not heard this was an effect. Every kid is different. Do your homework, research therapies and move your child toward improved speech.
9. Challenge Your Child
I just googled to find more speech therapies and found this advice: “keep it simple for them” – from an organization when providing tips on getting your child with autism to speak.
Don’t mistake silence for lack of intelligence. RAISE THE BAR for your child. Speak to your 8 year old like an 8 year old – not like a 2 year old. Something that’s worked on my house? “You want the cookie? Then use your words and ask for it.” Then you’ll see how much they want that cookie. Now, you need to know your child – can they ask for it? Do they know the words? Have they used PECs or ProLoQuo to ask for it? Can they speak at all? Can they pronounce the letters? It’s critical to know all this information so you can properly motivate your child – just like you would any OTHER non-preferred activity.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Zoe’s aide has told us that she makes many 3 and 4 word sentence, and better still, that she is moving off of using the iPad to speak for her and saying the words herself. I personally believe this is a combination of supplements, speech therapy, music, ProLoQuo2Go and homeopathy. We are seeing a lot more words and the introduction of babbling of long sentences. (I call it “babbling” because it’s barely a whisper.) We are happy with her progress and envision more speech in the near future. Go Zoe!
What other things have you tried to improve your child’s speech?
Share with us in the comments!