The Super Whites The ordinary life of a Super Mum

The Super Whites
Stella – the speech edition
I know that everyone has a story about their brother/best friend/sister’s child who didn’t talk until they were three and then one morning they just started talking in full sentences. But what they don’t or can’t tell you is what was happening in the lead up to that eventful birthday. Was this child making meaningful attempts at communication? Did this child struggle to form simple sounds that other children can do without even thinking? Were the parents of this child concerned, or blasé or did they seek the help of professionals when they suspected something wasn’t quite right with their child’s speech development. Not that their child just wasn’t talking, but that there were other signs that something wasn’t working the way it should in a perfectly perfect, normal, delicious, adorable two year old. Back ‘then’ many children did just grow out of it or slowly start talking or struggle a little at primary school. But now there are speech pathologists who have practices that are built around little children who don’t talk and because its my little child who isn’t talking, I am seeking all the help we can get.
Last week I took Stella back to the speech pathologist whom we saw earlier this year. This time we were there for a full assessment. Our last appointment was three months ago and at that point our lovely speechie said there were signs that Stella was delayed and she would happily help her with some regular speech therapy. What Ron and I gained from that appointment was much more than ideas on how we could help Stella to communicate. We were reminded that even though we have two daughters, the similarities stop there.
Stella is a different child altogether to Amy and her communication progression was totally different to how Amy progressed. Our speechie suggested we slow things down for Stella and offer her simple words that we expect her to say rather than constantly talking at her which is something I did when Amy was little. Amy was a sponge who seemed to soak up words from the very air around her, she would happily parrot back whatever I said to her.
After our first appointment back in March I felt a sense of relief that we were doing something. It was becoming increasingly obvious to us that Stella wasn’t progressing and last week’s appointment was even more validating. This time the speechie did a full assessment using the Preschool Language Scale Fourth Edition (PLS-4) which is a psychometric instrument used to assess the comprehension and expressive language skills in children from birth to 6 years old. This is a great tool for examining language development but more importantly it’s a great benchmark to measure Stella against both now and going forward.
The test took an hour and involved asking Stella to perform various tasks and respond to various questions. The test is divided up into age brackets and the administrator of the test is required to test the subject up to two years beyond their actual age to get a good idea of the child’s comprehension skills vs. their expressive communication skills. I was relieved because Stella was very cooperative and happily sat on my lap at the table and responded very positively to Anne’s questions and instructions.
I found it hard to sit still and not prompt her which really served to remind me just how much I interpret for Stella during the day. Anne tested Stella up to aged 4 and 6 months at which point Stella wasn’t able to respond to the questions and Anne was happy she had enough information to make her assessment. We had a brief chat after about what she thought might be going on and she was careful not to throw terminology at me but rather to remind me what I wanted to get out of this which is to help Stella communicate. You see its been getting harder and harder to watch her struggle to talk to the people around her, she doesn’t have a name for Amy and so resorts to tugging her clothes to get her attention. She will shout at me to open the fridge but is unable to tell me what it is she wants to eat, instead we do a strange form of pantomine, I hold up the cheese, she shakes her head and says “noooo”, I hold
up a yogurt and she nods vigorously .
Anne thought that there had been some changes in Stella since she had last seen her and these were not positive steps in the right direction but in fact steps backward. Stella has developed a clever form of communicating which involves shortening whole words and sentences into simple sounds instead of articulating the words themselves. So ‘please’ becomes ‘eeee’ and anything with wheels is a ‘weee-weeee’ which is the noise you make when you drive down a hill or ride a bike. Instead of naming the animals, Stella calls them by their sounds. This is why its impossible to make a list of words that Stella has. She actually only uses four – Mama, Dada, down and num-num which almost doesn’t count because its not a real word. She has plenty of other sounds that she uses to convey meaning but using these instead of words is making it harder and harder to break these habits which is why we are doing the right thing by addressing it with a professional. We now have a clear plan for helping Stella and fingers crossed in a few months I can be one of those people that says “she didn’t talk at all and then one morning she just woke up and spoke in complete sentences!
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