Through The Eyes of a Child:  From Silence to Speech
Fictional Writing by Edith Bowlby, M.S., CCC-SLP
©2009  All Rights Reserved
Hi, My name is Mary and  I am 4 ½ years old.  I love to dig in the sand at the beach, to run and play with my dog Popcorn,  and to look at books with my Mommy and Daddy.  I'm a good listener, I can hear just fine, and usually try to do what my parents ask me to.  I like to play with other kids, but that used to be really hard.  It was hard because I couldn't tell the other kids what I wanted to play.  I couldn't say anything about my world, because I couldn't talk!  

	When I was born I was just like any other kid.  My mom delivered me without any problems, and I loved to look at her when she talked to me.  I was kind of a quiet baby, and I didn't really play around with making sounds too much.  This continued, me not talking much.  I wanted things just like every other kid, but I just didn't know how to tell people.  One of the things I did was to take people to what I wanted.  I would take my dad's hand, and lead him to the food I wanted, or the toy I needed on the shelf.  My parents would try to get me to say a word, but then they would give up and give it to me, especially since I might get frustrated or even have a tantrum.  How would you feel if you knew what you wanted but couldn't ask for it, and you couldn’t even say how you were feeling inside?  Pretty frustrating, huh!  My parents also tried to do some early sign language with me, which was great and can really help some kids communicate.  It was kind of hard for me to move my hands at first, in the same way it was hard for me to move my mouth.  But with practice I was able to learn some important functional things to tell my parents like  “eat”, “drink”, “bathroom”, and “bath”.  

	When I was two and a half, my parents took me to see a Speech Pathologist.    She wanted to give me a way to say what I wanted right away, so she gave my family some pictures of things I might want to ask for like foods, toys, places to go, special people in my life, and my feelings.  We started out with just a few pictures held on to our refrigerator with magnets, and as I got used to using pictures, we added more into a communication book.   I would give my parents the picture of the thing I wanted to say.   They would say the name of the item so I could hear the word, but even if I didn't say the name, my parents would still give me what I wanted because I had communicated with the picture.  Boy, did that feel great.  My silence was beginning to open up, I was starting to get a voice through pictures.    I liked using the pictures, and since I happened to be pretty strong visually, this was a great way for me to learn too.  When I showed I could choose between a number of pictures, my Speech Teacher started having me combine pictures in to short phrases I could use daily to communicate such as "big cookie" and "Hi Mom".    My parents always modeled the phrase for me too, and sometimes I would try to repeat what they said.  After all, I still really wanted to talk like the other kids around me were doing.  I was beginning to notice I was a little different than the other kids with my communication book, but I didn't care.  At least I had a way to say what I was thinking.  

	My Speech Teacher had special ways to work on my talking. I went there often, and she had lots of fun toys for me to play with.   Oh, by the way, I'm a kid who really likes to touch and experience things through movement.  So it's a good thing my teacher always let me explore stuff and we were always moving around.  She started teaching me to talk by modeling a word for me (like the name of the toy), and waiting for me to say something,  anything, and she would give me the thing I wanted when I would say any sound.      Sometimes she would even say,  "open your mouth" to remind me that was what I needed to do to talk, and at first she would give me a chance with the toy just for opening my mouth in practice for saying words.  Sometimes she would touch my throat area to remind me to turn my voice on, and she would let me feel her voice box vibrating when she vocalized too.  Can you believe my mouth and voice weren't even sure what to do at first.   She was helping me discover that I had a "voice",  helping me come out of my silence.  

         My Speech Teacher would different “cuing strategies” to get me used to talking.  She would say  routine phrases like "ready set ___" and wait for me to say  "go", then we would have fun doing an action together.    Sometimes she would ask me a question like "what do you want?,  or a choice question  like “do you want the ball or the book?”.   Sometimes she would just "wait" with an excited look on her face, to give me a chance to vocalize after she showed me the toy/activity we were working for.   After trying these cuing strategies several times, if I really couldn't (or wouldn't) make a sound/word, she would ask me to do something else like "hold out your hand", and when I did that she would give me the toy.  This way I didn't get frustrated, but I still had to do something to get what I wanted.   She asked my parents to do this at home too.  She would tell my parents, "it is very important for you to practice what Mary is learning in speech therapy, during your day to day interactions at home.  This way she will have many opportunities to learn and develop her speech skills."  She would give my parents instructions and materials to try, and I used to like to do my "homework" (especially when my parents made it fun).    

	Over time,  I started getting motivated to try to talk too.   My speech sounded kind of funny at first, but my Speech Teacher was always excited so I figured I was doing something right and should keep doing more of it.  Plus she would give me the toy I wanted, which was really fun.   We did lots of exciting things like saying sound effects or action words while swinging on a swing (we would say "weee"), using rhythm with musical instruments to practice singing and talking (we would sing as I would hit up and down the xylophone), and holding a hoola hoop together as we sang our “Mouth Moving With The ABC’’s song”, marched in a circle,  and jumped up and down.     My Speech Teacher started out with me practicing saying syllables and words she thought might be easier for me to say such as animal sounds like "moo" for the cow and "baaa" for the sheep.  Then we started practicing word with consonants at the beginning of the word like “two” or “boo”, and consonants at the end like "up" or "out".   As my talking improved, the words she had me say got harder, with different consonants and vowels in different positions in the words.   We also started practicing words that had more than one syllable like “happy”, which was tricky at first.  We would play a game called “wipe out”, and she would give me a car to bounce up and down as we said the syllables in the word.  When I finished saying the word, I would get to roll the car down a ramp and we would say “wipe out” as it crashed.   Boy was that cool.  

	My Speech Teacher wanted to me practice a word more than once, so that my mouth would get use to planning the movements. We would play a game called "Climb The Mountain".  We started with our hand out facing down, and we would say/sing the word one time.  Then we would put our hand out a little higher up, and say/sing the word again at a little higher pitch .  She would model the word if I needed her to, but she really wanted me to say/sing the word on my own as my hand walked "up the mountain".  When I said/sang the word 8 times and my hand was at the top of the mountain, we would "slide down the mountain".  I would make my hand like it was sliding down from top to bottom, and I would say/sing the word one last time with a downward pitch.  This was a really fun game, and I got lots of practice saying a word repetitively.  It went like this:  "pop" (hand/voice low), "pop" (hand/voice higher), "pop" (hand/voice higher), "pop" (hand/voice higher), "pop" (hand/voice higher), "pop" (hand/voice higher), "pop" (hand/voice higher), "pop" (hand/voice highest),……"pop" (hand/voice slides down).   As I got used to this, she would change the vowel back and forth, so I had to get used to moving my mouth in different patterns (i.e. "pop"-"poop"- "peep").

 	I remember playing a game called the "silly sentence".  I would use this really silly finger pointer, and as I pointed to each word in a rhyming sentence, she wanted me to say something. At first I would look at her face and wait for her to model the word for me, but soon I was starting to be able to say the words on my own too.  Sometimes she would help me work on speech skills by both of us saying the word at the same time, in unison,  which sometimes helped me say the word more clearly.  Then I would sit down and the teacher would make that silly pointer give me “five”.  That really was silly, and made both me and the teacher giggle.  

	Repeat after me books, poems, and songs were something we did a lot,  with lots of repetition, rhythm, and rhyming.  My teacher would pick a special book that had certain words in it for me to practice.  She would read kind of slowly, and then she would wait for me to repeat what she had just said.  I did my best, and since I liked books, this was a fun way for me to learn.  We would clap our hands and stomp our feet as we read, because like I said, I'm a kids who learns through movement.   We would do the same book over and over, because repeating the same phrases really helped me learn.   My Speech Teacher worked mostly on me saying functional phrases, stuff I would say to my family and friends every day.  She felt like this was more important than working on just single sounds by themselves. She worked a lot on vowels through rhyming, because after all, every single word has at least one vowel in it.   That makes them really important.   Even if I missed the consonants in the words, if I could say the vowel correctly it would help people begin to understand what I was saying.   

             Sometimes My Speech Teacher used other strategies to help me learn to speak.  We worked in front of a mirror, so I could see what my mouth was doing when I was talking.  She would say things like, "close your lips for "m", then we would say "more" and she would give me "more" of a fun item or activity.   Or she would say "put your lips in a circle" for the "o" sound, then we would say "open" and take something fun out of a clear jar (so I could see what I was going to get).   Sometimes she would use a "touch cue", and put her hands around my mouth to help me make the sound, or she would let me touch her face to "feel" how she was making the sound.  She would give me lots of practice so I would say the special word more than once, as it takes lots of practice to get a movement for speech into my memory.    She even had pictures of a mouth making the movements for speech sounds, which helped me "see" what my mouth was supposed to do. Like if she would say "put your tongue up" for "t" in "turn", then she would show me picture of the mouth with the tongue going up, and we would point to the picture as we said the word.   Then we would practice saying "my turn" in a game.  

	My Speech Teacher had a special system using hand movements,  where there was a special movement for every consonant and vowel we say in our everyday speech.   She felt like I could learn speech through activating my nervous system with hand movements to represent vowels/consonants in words.  Like she would say  "pop", and she would pop her fingers off of her lips to represent the "p" sound.  At first she had to remind me to "use my hands", because this wasn't natural for me.  Once I started though, doing the movement when I made the sound made my speech come out louder and sometimes clearer, and it was fun too.  I learned that whenever she did the "popping" motion with her finger and thumb popping off of her top and bottom lip, I was to say the "p' sound.    So later when we practiced "hop", I watched her hands, listened to her speech, and knew there was a "p" sound at the end. What do you know, I remembered to say the "p" sound at the end of the word too.  And then we had fun hopping over blue (paper) river.  She was sure to fade using those helping hand cues when I didn’t need them anymore. to help me gain independence in saying the sounds in words and phrases on my own.  
	My Speech Teacher helped me learn how sentences are made up of words, words are made up of syllables, and syllables are made up of sounds , cuz she believed this would help with my talking and also for later when I would begin to read (she called this phonological awareness). We would also clap our hands or tap the table to help me remember to say words, syllables, and sounds.  She  had a special game called "block talk", and we would put out blocks to represent the words in a sentence.  Like if I wanted juice she would put out 3 blocks, and as she said "I want juice" she would point to each block.  Then she would wait for me to say the phrase too.  If I needed help, she would model the word again,  and I would do my best.  If I had trouble with saying a certain word clearly, she would put out blocks to represent syllables in the word.  Like to teach me to say "juice" she would put out 2 blocks.  She would say "ju" and point the first block  and "c" and point to the second block.  I was supposed to say what she said.  Then she would slide the 2 blocks together and say "juice".  Finally, we would put the word back into a sentence, put 3 blocks out, and say "I want juice".  Then she would give me a drink of juice, which I liked since I was thirsty. 

	 Quess what!  My speech is really started to take off.  People are starting to be able to understand my words, even when I am talking about things they don't know about. I'm still having to work really hard on my speech, and I can still use my communication book and other ways to talk like a speech generating device and sign language if I need too.  Can you believe it, I am not silent any more.  I am a kid with a voice, I can be heard, I can make choices, and I can tell the people around me about my world.  I CAN COMMUNICATE!