June 22, 2015

what speech therapy taught me about parenting.

Our toddler has been receiving speech therapy for the past few months. You'd think this might be about language training for our little one, but in truth it's been more of a learning experience for me as his mother! Speech therapy has actually boosted my confidence as a parent and helped me grow closer to both of the kids.

By the time Hawk was 18 months old, I could tell that his ability to use language was not developing normally. Don't get me wrong- this kid is bright. He's been above in beyond in nearly every milestone he's passed in the past 21+ months. He was walking at 8 months, for goodness' sake! And more recently, he's begun expressing interest in sitting on the potty. He's not even two yet!

Hawk has no problem understanding what we're saying to him. The issue is his ability to form the correct sounds with his mouth to imitate words. Sometimes, this can be pretty comical as he talks to us in his own language- quite confidently, even! It's hard not to burst out laughing when a stream of burble comes out of his mouth while he holds his elbows akimbo and cocks his head defiantly to the side as if to say, Come on, mom- you know exactly what I'm trying to say here. 

Other times, he uses gestures similar to sign language to communicate what he's trying to say. For example, he might point to the cabinet and cup his hands together to indicate he wants a bowl.

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Our pediatrician referred us to Early Intervention for evaluation, and the testing showed exactly what I thought. Hawk is a perfectly normal child with an extraordinary mastery of his body and fine motor movements, but limited ability to communicate verbally. So, for the past three months,we've been welcoming a few different speech therapy professionals into our home for continued evaluation and treatment. It's hard sometimes to describe exactly what we "do" during his speech therapy appointments, but I've learned so much from our therapists that I'm so grateful for the experience.

Often, we're just sitting on the floor playing with various toys and talking with Hawk about them. He gets really into the playing, and then he'll invent ways to entertain us. He's such a little comic! At some point each time, you can almost see the imaginary key in his brain click and the door opens and new words or phrases begin to tumble out.

This day in particular, I was elated when Hawk pointed to a picture of balloons painted on the side of a set of nesting blocks and said, "BOON!" Then he pointed to a picture of a duck and said, "DUCK! QUACK!" We're getting there! I would have danced a jig if I didn't think it would have made me look like a total idiot.

The one thing I've really learned through this experience is that it doesn't take anything elaborate to teach your kids certain skills. Most of the time, all they really want or need is some one-on-one attention to give them a nudge in the right direction. A little bit of patience goes a long way, too!

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I've put away most of our noise-making toys, keeping out only the toys that leave room for the kids' imagination. We keep a basket of books next to the sofa in the den- I always suggest we sit together and read before switching the TV on. We've made an effort to spruce up our outdoor spaces to encourage more outside play.

I try to involve the kids in my daily chores, encouraging them to help with whatever I'm doing (even if the "help" isn't so much making progress toward the goal of finishing the task, it's giving the kids an opportunity to learn important life skills through imitation). These things are simple- nothing elaborate or costly or time-consuming. I hope my kids will get something more valuable from their childhood than any material things could offer!

People often remind me that one day, I'm going to lament the fact I ever wished Hawk would learn how to talk. There's going to come a day that he's going to run off at the mouth and I'll think, Would you just shut up, already?! Or one day he'll sass me with the same mouth that used to nurse at my breast, and I'll have to remind myself that this phase, too, shall pass.

One day I'll barely even remember the frustration of dealing with yet another tantrum resulting from his inability to express his needs in words, and a new annoyance will fill the place of this one. And in that day, like this one, perhaps the best therapy of all will be a little bit of patience and whole lot of compassion.

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