Tuesday, October 17, 2017

When Kids Notice My Daughter's Limited Speech

I have always been amazed at how quickly children pick up on Jaycee's limited verbal skills. It isn't her Down syndrome necessarily that gets their attention first; it is her lack of words.

A few years ago, I took Jaycee to her brother's pre-school orientation. Jaycee was previously in this pre-school class, so she took her seat on the floor with all the 3-4 year old children while the teacher gave her short speech. I was listening to the teacher but watching Jaycee nestled in between all the younger children that didn't know her.

Jaycee was smiling and babbled happily, "Ba ba ba," as she often did.

One of the pre-school children said, "Do you talk?" Jaycee replied with a smile. The pre-school student looked at the child next to him and said, "I don't think she can talk." There was a brief discussion between the two of them about her speech, or lack there of, as they tried to figure out why this older child was babbling to them.

I wasn't bothered by this exchange. The truth is that she has struggled with speech for a long time. Her biggest gains in talking have came in the past two years (she's now 11 years old), but she has a long way to go to get clear speech that anyone could understand. It is seemingly unnatural for a child not to be able to speak. Many adults have trouble comprehending why a child cannot produce words. This is evident by some remarks that try to make sense of the delays by blaming inadequate parenting or a lack of trying. But, some children with complex speech-language disorders do struggle. It's not innate for them to make sounds and put those sounds together to produce words.

Sometimes a child will ask me why my daughter can't talk. It doesn't bother me. I like to tell them why she struggles with speech, so they can have a better understanding of people like Jaycee. I try to explain it like this: Jaycee can say some words like mama. But speaking is hard for her. Her mouth doesn't work like yours or mine. But she does know lots of sign language and uses her device to talk with me. She's really smart!

When my son was around 4 years old, he started to notice Jaycee's speech delays as well. He started to make comments like, "Sissy hasn't said her first word yet."

I don't know where he got that idea or the phrase "first word," but I corrected him.

"Sissy has words, just not many. You know she says things like bubby, mama, dada, and bye bye."

He noticed a difference with her speech, but he didn't seem clear on what the problem was. Interesting enough, my son thought that all children with Down syndrome were nonverbal like his sister for years. He would be shocked when he saw a person with Down syndrome talking and sometimes argued with me if they had Down syndrome or not.

I think questioning why an older child doesn't speak is valid for a child (& adult). Explaining the interactions between muscle weakness from Down syndrome and muscle incoordination from childhood apraxia of speech is complicated. But, I have tried over the years to focus on what Jaycee can do and place a positive remark in the child's mind.

I hope that children can look beyond the words they don't hear and find something else. Jaycee is fortunate enough to have several people in her life that are able to do this. I hope every child struggling with words is able to find these people too!

This post is written for Down syndrome awareness month when bloggers write all 31 days in October for the 31 for 21 challenge. 

1 comment:

  1. It is hard when speech differences are noticed. My daughter is verbal but cannot handle more abstract conversations. Thanks for sharing your story.


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