Saturday, September 15, 2012

When Words Aren't Enough

I've been processing our intake appointment with Speech & Language (S&L) and I'm glad I waited a bit to write anything since it was clear that I needed the perspective.

It was better and worse than I expected, though to be honest, I truly didn't have a clue what to expect when I walked into the building. The therapist who met with K and I was friendly enough but she got quickly down to business while K played with some toys. She veered for them right away and really didn't need much prompting.

The therapist (I'll call her S), and I chatted, getting down to the nitty gritty questions. What are her issues? How does this impact her daily life? What have you been doing so far? How would things be different if her issues weren't there?

On the surface, they are fairly simple questions, and I had even answered them in my head. But sitting there, my nerves got the better of me and I felt like I was stumbling over my own words. Ironic at a S&L meeting, no?

The gist of the meeting is that they are going to go ahead and admit K to the program and she is being put on a waitlist for an appointment that will take probably till around January to occur.

Essentially what we've been doing is wrong. Not all of it, but her frustration (and consequent acting out) is because of the gap in communication that she's realizing is her problem. Also, she comprehends significantly less language than hubby and I thought. It was made very evident when we tested it in a non-familiar environment. At home, she knows where things are and how things work, so we get by just fine for the most part with what little she does say, because her nonverbal communication is great. I was told encourage it because it was helping to a degree.

Her current comprehension is one or two words out of everything we say to her. That's it.

I walked away with a list of things to do and not to do:

1. Reduce our language to one to two words. No more sentences, no more talking to her like we normally do. (ie. 'coat on', ' blue bus'

2. Don't ask questions (ie. what are you doing?). This is one part that frustrates her apparently because she doesn't understand and/or can't reply. So she says nothing. We can continue to offer her choices between two things, but that's about it. Already I can say that this is a super hard habit to break.

3. Comment on her play. (ie. A sheep, red lego etc). Keep in mind #1.

4. Take the blame for not understanding her. (ie. 'I'm sorry, mama didn't hear you', 'Silly mummy' etc). the idea is that she's feeling pressure to communicate, but since she can't this makes it our problem rather than hers and takes that pressure off of her.

If we still can't understand what she wants, change the subject so she doesn't get frustrated. Honestly, I'm not sure about this one because if she wanted something and is trying to communicate that, and I change the subject, wouldn't she feel ignored then? Not sure.

5. Wait. Give her lots of time to respond, or not respond if she chooses not to.

It seems all simple, but in practice it's very difficult. Mind you we've only been doing this a day and it'll take a few weeks before any of it becomes natural.

Walking out of the office I felt rather small. S didn't say 'you've been doing bad things' or 'you're a bad parent', but I also didn't feel very reassured or comforted. She did seem convinced that if changed K's environment, we would see a change in her frustration level by the time we got an appointment and she had a formal assessment.

What's been helpful in my processing is to think of this like being in a foreign country and only knowing a little of the language. It would be like someone saying things to you and you can only pick out one or two words here and there. Given that I experienced this in Geneva, I very much understand the frustration of not being able to understand what people are saying.

What comes next I don't know beyond waiting for the appointment. It's clear we have a lot of ground to make up, but we also have time before she starts school. There's no way we can afford to put her into nursery (a whole other topic), so for now it's just us making these changes for her. It won't be easy, but if it will help her gain some confidence with her language, it will be worth it.


  1. I'm sorry for how the appointment went. I'm sure that everything must be difficult to process and put into practice. I really hope that things go well and you see improvement from here on out though, and please don't be too hard on yourself.

  2. I think it would be hard for me to do the new rules too. I think all of the no-nos the ST gave you are things we do and say constantly. It doesn't sound like what you are doing as a parent is fundamentally wrong though. It just means you need to walk off the beaten path a bit to meet K's needs.

  3. I can see a huge re-adjustment, because mostly what you seem to be doing is what would be done spontaneously as such. I hope the new set of rules would be not so difficult to follow and K's communication would monumentally improve. When does she start school?


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