Raising a Child with Speech Issues

One thing that three of my children have suffered from is speech issues. Whilst Ruby and Reese’s speech issue’s were caused by their hearing and glue ear, Becky suffered from a Speech and Language Impairment (SLI) for many years.

girl holding baby guinea pig

Becky meeting her new guinea pig for the first time

Suffering from Speech issues had a huge impact on her life, her friendships, her behaviour and her education. It didn’t mean she wasn’t as healthy as other children. Neither did it mean she was stupid or behind in her class, educationally or developmentally. In fact, she is a very smart young lady who takes her education seriously.

Nowadays, there are very few signs that she ever suffered from a speech and language impairment. She sometimes lacks confidence in social situations or may seem a little shy, but she refuses to let it affect her education. She is currently a member of the school council at her school and has taken part in assemblies.

The change seemed to happen overnight in year 6. She suddenly decided to join in and performed in the school Urdd Eistedfodd. As a member of the school council, she gave a talk to the parents of the incoming nursery and reception parents. She did fantastic, with no sign of any nerves and no sign of any of her previous speech issues.

When she was younger, this was a different story. We learnt that there was more to her speech issues than just not being able to say her words clearly.

The way I remember her speech therapist explaining it to me was like this; If you showed Becky a picture of a lighthouse, she would recognise it and know what it was. However, her brain wouldn’t cooperate. She would go to the filing cabinet in her brain where all her words are stored and she would search for the correct word to match what she has identified in the picture. Sadly, she would be unable to find the correct word but since she knew it was to do with water, the sea, safety and boats, she would come out with Lifeboat. Then she would get mad at herself because she knew it was a lighthouse, she just couldn’t get the correct word out.

Because of her speech issues, Becky would often lose her temper in frustration. I will never forget the day when she was 5 years old and in year 1 when she came out of school crying. When I asked her what was the matter, she told me she hadn’t felt very well and had tried to tell the teacher, but the teacher hadn’t been able to understand her. She was so upset and didn’t want to go to school because what was the point if no one could understand her. I went to speak to the teacher and made a point of telling her that the next time she couldn’t understand Becky, she should go and get Becky’s older brother and ask him to translate. Thankfully, that was the worst issue we ever faced with teachers and the school was supportive. Becky would often find ways of getting by in class, such as watching and copying.

What is Speech and Language?

Speech and Language is a very broad category, with some children having problems that are short-lived and others having severe and persistent difficulties with both understanding and talking. These difficulties aren’t associated with other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, hearing impairment or autistic spectrum disorders and can be as unique as the child herself.

They may;

  • Have difficulty saying what they want to, even though they have ideas
  • Talk in sentences but be difficult to understand
  • Sound muddled, meaning it can be difficult to follow what they are saying
  • Find it difficult to understand words and long instructions
  • Have difficulty remembering the words they want to say
  • Find it hard to join in and follow what is going on in the playground.

There is no obvious cause of a Speech and Language Impairment. All that is known is that the speech and language part of the brain doesn’t develop in the right way. It can also be hereditary as it is believed that genes play an important part in causing an SLI. Unfortunately, there is no medical test to see if a child has an SLI or not.

Studies have shown that in 5-year-olds, SLI affects about 2 children in every classroom (about 7%) and it is more common in boys than girls.”
Reference ICAN – The Children’s Communication Charity

Parents of a child with speech issues are often judged and made to feel guilty. That they are to blame, that they don’t speak or read enough to their child. I knew a woman who had two sons in a parenting group I was a member of when Ryan was a baby. It was shocking how many people in the group judged her and made out that it was her fault that both her son’s had delayed language. That if she would just talk to them more it would solve their problems. When she mentioned her 2nd son also had speech issues, that just fueled the fire. Obviously, she wasn’t talking to them enough if both had speech issues, they would say, with comments telling her to get off her computer and go play and interact with them. I used to feel sorry for her but back then I agreed with those who judged her. Ryan could talk perfectly so obviously it was her parenting. I didn’t even realise how unfair I was being until it was my turn to be the parent that was judged with the child who couldn’t speak properly.

Children with a Speech and Language don’t learn language in the same way as other children. They need more help and support than just being spoken to and encouraged and it is very important to remember that there is nothing a parent could have done differently to avoid their child developing an SLI.

These children need the right support to help them learn and develop their speech and language skills and without this help and support, having an SLI could cause the child lifelong difficulties. These children will continue to need support throughout school, support which needs to be catered to the needs and the ability of the child. The type of difficulties a child faces can change as they get older, for example, they may get better at understanding what other people are saying but still struggle to put sentences together.

Our Story

We realised with Becky at quite a young age that there was something not quite right with her speech as it was slow to develop. Her older brother had learnt to talk quickly and easily, but she seemed to struggle. She began having speech therapy sessions when she was 3 and suffering from an SLI made her very shy as she knew people couldn’t understand her when she talked and this made her unwilling to talk. In fact, she never spoke a word to anyone whilst at playschool, but did start talking in nursery class at school.

I came across this old video from about 5 years ago. Being fans of iCarly, they decided to make their own episode entitled iBecky. Starring 8-year-old Becky and 6-year-old Ruby and featuring3-year-old Rhian. Filmed by Ryan aged 10. This video has been edited by Ryan who now, aged almost 15, has hidden his face. You can clearly see Becky’s speech issues and her speech and language impairment in how she struggles to pronounce the letter R and to find the correct word when she is speaking.

Having an SLI also affected her behaviour,  as she would tantrum in frustration if people couldn’t understand what she wanted. However, she was a very smart child and quickly learnt her own way of getting what she wanted, even if it meant dragging you and pointing to what she wanted. My mum would pretend it was her naughty ears making it hard for her to understand Becky, rather than telling her she couldn’t understand her. She was bullied in school because of it with nasty children telling her she was thick because she couldn’t talk properly and it has been a really long road to get to where she is now.

When she was 8, she was assessed at school to see how her SLI was developing. She was given a Test of Abstract Language and Comprehension (TALC), which looks at her understanding of abstract language with 4 levels of questions. Level 1 was the easiest and level 4 the hardest. She needed to score 80% to pass each level. She passed level 1 and 2 with 100% but level 3 was only just a pass at 82% and she just failed level 4 with 77%. Level 4, the level which she didn’t pass, deals with abstract thinking and using language to justify problems.

She was also given a Test for Reception of Grammar (TROG) which looks at her understanding of different grammatical constructions. She scored 14/20 which puts her on the 37th percentile, within the average range.

However, during the assessment, she had some difficulty with remembering words that she knew. She frequently paused whilst trying to find the word and used fillers such as “um, uh”

Following her assessment, strategies and advice were given to her school, in the form of an ICP (Individual Communication Plan) with resources to help follow her ICP and to help her develop. As her parents, we were also been given a copy of her ICP, along with behavioural policies that match her level of understanding of abstract languages. She was to continue to receive speech therapy from her speech therapist in the clinic to help with her speech sounds.

The strategies in place for her were;

  • To assist with her word-finding difficulties in the classroom using mind maps and vocabulary maps can be used when introducing a new topic.
  • Use of strategies to develop her understanding of abstract language (e.g “why” questions and problem-solving skills).

Within two years of this assessment, Becky was able to stop with her speech therapy sessions and her ICP was cancelled. Thankfully, she had now outgrown her SLI but it did have a lasting effect on her confidence and social skills, not to mention her behaviour as she was so used to using anger as an outlet for her frustration.

Having a Child with Speech Issues

Having a child who suffers from a Speech and Language Impairment can be heartbreaking at times. I’ve had her come home in tears because she wasn’t understood or children have been making fun of her or calling her names! You want to protect them and shelter them from all hurt, but sadly there is nothing as cruel as children and they will pick-up on any difference. There was talk for two years running about her attending a specialist speech unit part-time, but as there were limited places she wasn’t offered one, which I took as a positive sign that her speech wasn’t that bad.

It has been a long, slow journey. But she has made a lot of improvement and with the right help, her speech and understanding developed enough that she no longer needed any support. Whenever her speech got her down and frustrated, I just give her a hug and reminded her how far she has already come! At times it seemed like we were on a neverending path, but even when she didn’t seem to be making an improvement with her speech in therapy, just seeing the boost in her confidence was enough. Slowly she gained enough confidence to answer in class and then to join in more with activities.

When you first start off down the path of speech therapy and with a diagnosis of a Speech and Language Impairment, it can seem like an uphill struggle. But at last, you realise you’ve reached the summit. You look back and you realise how much you have achieved and how far you have come and that it was worth every step!

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