by Sheri Lambourne
The Minister did not speak as much as he intoned his words in his greeting, “weelllcooomme”. It was as if we were in church not in a small sitting room on a cold March day, as we met to discuss the upcoming baptism of our first child-our much awaited daughter. His question, however simple, left us stumped as he asked us if we knew what infant meant in Latin. Neither of us knew. With a flourish of his hand, he intoned that the Latin translation of infant is “Speechless”. Such was the importance of speech in a child’s development. In my training as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I had dutifully memorized the charts of developmental milestones, I knew that most children said their first words around 9-12 months and that they would begin to combine words around 2 years, BUT I also knew that there was great variation in these milestones prompting the need for parental reassurance. I knew ~theoretically~ how to teach this helpless little soul to speak but I had never ~practically~ done it! All my training had occurred before I had earned this new title of mom. I remember feeling fairly overwhelmed at the task of raising this little baby never mind having to have the full responsibility of teaching her to talk! That was almost 24 years ago. I am now a mom of four and have been a Speech-Language Pathologist for over 25 years. I am happy to report that all four of our children DID indeed learn to speak and we were as amazed at the process with number four as we were with number one.
Quite simply, we are the model that our children see, hear and imitate-all day- every day. That places a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders to do our best to ensure that our children can communicate their needs, wants and desires. It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. So it is with our children. These little people will learn completely through imitation. They are like little parrots! Take the bathtub for instance. As you are bathing your little person-and they are looking at you, try repeating buh,buh, buh as the soap makes bubbles. Before you know it they will be repeating you! Vowel sounds come first (eee, oooo), then some consonant sounds enter the picture. I remember swinging Tessa around by her arms saying “Wheeee” and soon after hearing her imitate me. First consonant sounds include /p,b,m,w,h,n/ so be silly and make those funny sounds as you go about your daily routines with your child-bathing, eating (mmm, mmm!). Remember names are important too-think of “mama” and “dada” – No wonder children often say mama first – they hear it the MOST!
As you are playing with your child, remember to follow their lead. If it’s the box that they want to play with and not the contents, play with the box! Put it on your head, put it on their head, and simply stay one step ahead of their language. If they are reaching for a ball, wait them out before giving it to them and say ball with emphasis! Chances are they will TRY to say buh, buh. Give them the opportunity to try to say something before you give over the “prize!” whether it is a ball or a cookie. Remember to keep your sentences short- Less is more when you want your child to imitate what you are saying!
Give them the words they need rather than ask questions. Think of it as a training session not a test! I remember scanning books for the LEAST amount of text-they are the books that are the best to use for little people (not to mention to a tired parent, a short book is sometimes needed!). When looking at a book, describe what you are seeing (rather than read the text). You say the words (at the level that they can manage-one or two words at a time e.g. Big Truck) and they will imitate. If you ask “what’s this?” you will get only a one word answer. We want to extend their language into word combinations-they will need you for this!
Stay assured that if you stick with these basic language stimulation strategies your child will move from a “Speechless” infant to a Chatty-Cathy toddler! Also, if there is any question regarding hearing health – get this assessed at your nearest Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centre or a private Audiologist.
Sheri Lambourne, Speech-Language Pathologist, Antigonish