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  • Writer's pictureValerie Carter

7 Speech Tips from a Parent Pro

As a parent of a daughter with Down syndrome and a Language Disorder (sometimes diagnosed as Apraxia), I have had over 20 years of experience helping her overcome her speech challenges.

First, to clarify, Language Disorders are often developmental. They start in early childhood and continue into adulthood. But they can also be caused by a brain injury or illness.

Language Disorders aren’t a matter of intelligence. An individual’s receptive language (ability to understand) is often much higher than their expressive language (ability to speak). Nevertheless, having a language disorder can make it challenging to learn and to connect with other people.

When my daughter was 5, I was told she would never speak and she should get used to using an Augmentative Speech Device (ASD). This is a talking box, that when buttons are pressed, will deliver an automated voice expressing the user’s needs and wants. An example, used successfully by many is an app that is downloaded onto a personal device called Prologue2Go. I objected to the idea of carrying a speech device, and maintained that I was committed to having my daughter communicate independently.

Many tools has been used by therapists (and me) to pave the way to achieving better articulation, pronunciation and sentence length.

These include:

Prompting - PROMPT stands for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets. The technique is a tactile approach that uses touch cues on an individual’s jaw, tongue and lips to guide them through a targeted word, phrase or sentence.

Signing - My daughter and I learned sign language together and still use it today as an easy and understandable way to clarify a thought and/or as a prompt for speaking a word or sentence.

Gaming - During the Pandemic while homebound, we played a multitude of fun speech-inducing games such as: Old Maid, Go Fish, Junior Scrabble, Junior Monopoly, Guess in 10, UNO, Build a Sentence, I SPY Dig-In, Guess Who and Memory Match. In addition, mobile speech applications also offer an array of excellent options worth exploring such as: Articulation Station, Chatterbox Kids, Hungry, Hungry Hippos, Endless Learning Academy, Sign Me ABCs, Sign Me A Story, Sign Me A Sentence, Splingo, Talking Ginger, Vocabulary City, and What IF?

Sentence Building - Using an erasable board, I prompt my daughter to tell me about her day. I write one word at a time on the board until she has created a complete sentence. She then writes that sentence into her notebook. When she has completed 10 sentences, she reads them out loud. She then covers one sentence at time and recites the 10 sentences from memory. This is very useful in helping her memorize key information regarding her address, etc).

Photo Books- Most people enjoy photo albums, this is especially true of my daughter who loves to look at photos of her activities, family and friends. We make photo memory books (on Shutterfly or CVS) of special events and usually annually as well. These albums are treasured by her and often create talking points when she is with others or with her speech therapist.

Reading - There is no downside to reading. We take turns reading alternate pages, this way I am modeling the word's pronunciation and she has the opportunity to read with minimum judgement. It’s a win-win.

FaceTime or Phone Time- Using a cue board (erasable board or paper) to help, FaceTime or phone time are great ways to teach communication skills. Write down some conversation starters and topics and then start a FaceTime or phone conversation session with a friend or family member. Real time interacting offers a terrific way to work on social skills while practicing conversing.

Last thing, don’t constantly fill in the quiet. With a slowly vocalizing child, speaking for them becomes second nature. Don’t. Give them a chance to say something. Let a bit of time go by and you may be surprised that they will speak up on their own.

Language building takes time and effort, but it can be achieved. My daughter will never be overly chatty, but she can communicate on her own. Every single day more language emerges from her. Like all of us, she is a work in progress.

Good luck and most importantly, have fun!

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