Today's guest post comes to you from Kerry Kidd, who has some pointers on cheap toys and resources with therapeutic value for parents of children with speech or social delays.
Your child isn’t talking. You’ve given them time, you’ve read them stories and sung nursery rhymes, and they still aren’t catching up. Speech delay is not only a worrying time, it can also be a very expensive one. With long NHS waiting lists, and private speech therapy at an average of £60 an hour, you need to think carefully about what your child needs without breaking the bank.
The good news is that you are your child’s best therapist, and you don’t charge. The bad news is that some types of professional input and dedicated resources are worth the money. Remember, professionals are useful, but never be afraid to disagree. You know your own child best.
You in the home, with your child, are their most useful teacher. Many of the tools are already to hand; a toybox provides material for a daily play session, reinforcing simple words (e.g. “Push,” “Ball,” “Up,” “Down”).
Remember, even if your child is not yet able to say any words (expressive speech) you can test and extend their understanding (receptive speech).
Start playing games together as early and as regularly as possible. Not only do they help extend language, they also give you an opportunity to teach how to play with others, taking turns and sharing an imaginative game.
These skills are harder for speech-delayed children to learn and, if you decide your child needs professional help, are important for determining the cause of your child’s late speech. You can exercise oral motor skills with blowing bubbles, straw-sucking, and tongue-sticking and licking games.
Yes, we all know that you should read to your child, but it’s hard to motivate yourself when even the simplest books go over their head. If your child can’t follow a simple story, go back to picture books.
Some speech-delayed children enjoy learning to point at an item and hear a word repeated, even if they can’t say it yet. Others take delight in showing you where the ball is, long before they are ready to use the word themselves.
Do not worry if the child wants you to read the same book dozens or even hundreds of times. Some delayed talkers begin the journey into speech by internally memorising a favourite book, then filling in a word or two at a time.
Pictures and talkboards
Some speech-delayed children are much better at communicating with the use of pictures or symbols. You can help them to express their desires by giving them a “board” with pictures of items such as milk, teddy, TV. Don’t worry that this will delay speech: it may do the opposite, by showing them that communication gets results.
Some parents are hesitant of sign language in case the child starts to use sign language instead of speech. Recent research shows that this is not the case, as long as the word is spoken with the sign. In fact, in my own son’s case learning to sign improved his speech significantly.
Baby signing classes are expensive and inconsistent in the signs they use, but on Cbeebies, Something Special provides a free tutorial in Makaton signing, and many Speech and Language NHS services offer free Makaton courses to parents. Totalcommunication.org provides an invaluable introduction free of charge with basic signs.
Questions to ask
Don’t torment yourself by surfing the internet for hours. But it’s worth doing the MChat online for £10, and going to a professional if it indicates a developmental delay. Also think about whether your child can lick, blow, suck on a straw, move their tongue around at will, had early problems eating, or anything else that could indicate a physical problem.
Stuff it's worth spending money on
If you are concerned, get an assessment done as early as possible. This helps you to know how best to target your work. If you can get to see an NHS therapist, quickly, great. If not, it is probably worth shelling out for a one-off private consultation (we paid £85 for an initial assessment). Then you can decide what help you think is best. A complete Makaton signing home course will set you back a jawdropping £143.70, but you can cheat a bit and start with a pocket book of signs for £6.50.
To guide your work at home, invest in these Hanen books. They’re not cheap (currently £45 secondhand on Ebay) but they are far, far better than anything on the market in teaching a parent how to improve the speech a language-delayed child. For affordable specialist toys, see SenseToys. Our family love their whistles!
Remember: The most important resource your child has is you. Pace yourself, be kind to yourself, do not feel guilty for not doing enough. If your child is officially diagnosed with speech delay, then ask your local SureStart centre if they will send a play worker to help.
Home-start also offer volunteers for two hours a week, either to help you, or to play with other children in the family whilst you do therapy. Under-threes may be eligible for visits from Portage, a free weekly home visiting and therapy service.
Some children with language delay are eligible for Disability Living Allowance (Be aware: the forms are very depressing and hard to fill in right. Use an online webguide like Cerebra’s to help you fill in the forms or see if your Surestart centre will help).
If you are female and struggling with the implications of having a child with special/additional needs, then Well Woman clinics offer free counselling. And – most important of all – don’t try to do too much.