Let there be speech…

Let there be speech!

A little over a year ago our youngest son, Fletcher was a little over one year old. This sweet little nugget of goodness was so full of energy. Loved to be outside, loved his “guys” (aka Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor) and was obsessed with his animals. Every day he’d line up his guys and his animals and laugh and smile and play. Only one thing was missing from this picture perfect playtime with this sweet little boy…speech. Fletcher didn’t talk. Hardly. At. All.

As a mom and a self acknowledged control freak it was very clear that this was a problem. The worst part, he used to talk a little. When we was 8-10 months old he’s say things like mama, dada, gaga, out and dog. But for some reason when he turned one he stopped making all those sounds.

Of course, like any responsible, I’m going to fix this worried moms I turned to Google. That, my friends, was a bad idea. Can I just please say to all of you, DON’T do it! It doesn’t help…at all. Then you worry about all the things you could have possibly ingested while your child was in utero that could have caused this abnormality and it becomes a blame fest of ugliness. It’s always a bad idea. Stay. Off. Google. For real.

Anyways. I was convinced he had a whole host of issues so we started with his hearing. He was hearing fine, he passed all those test with flying colors. We met with his Pediatrician and he was in otherwise good health, social and happy…so she recommended we call Infant Toddler Services to get him speech services. We were familiar with their services as they came when we had the triplets. It’s a great service for parents to give them ideas on how to help their kids develop their speech, social skills, etc. Our little man was obviously being assessed for his speech difficulties.

When they first arrived they immediately suggested he was autistic. I thought Gaga was going to literally and figuratively fly off the handle. Having been an educator for 40 years herself, she knew, as did I, that this was not the case for our little Fletcher and for someone to immediately suggest that without even evaluating him was irresponsible. We let that slide and allowed them to list all the reasons it was possible. So, needless to say that didn’t help my stress.

After a full evaluation they couldn’t really determine what the problem was, but for whatever reason Fletcher didn’t want to or couldn’t communicate at the level he should be for his age. So we scheduled him for regular speech sessions and we became obsessed with his speech.

Now every playtime became an opportunity to work on his sounds and words. We made entire games out of speech. We had flash cards that had pictures of things he liked that he’d have to at least try to make the sound then he could hold it and slide down the slide in our house. That seemed to help. We invented games that involved him holding those same cards and once he attempted the word or sound he got to jump off of something like a couch or cushion.

But…if you’ve ever had a child with speech problem you know the frustration with working on something over and over and over and having a child stare you blank in the face and NOT do it. You feel like NO progress is being made. Then the speech teacher comes and they tell you they see progress and you scratch your head in confusion wondering if it’s you or them that have totally lost their marbles. Then you concede that they are just trying to make you feel better about yourself as a parent and conclude that you were in fact right the first time, no progress was being made.

After the first few months of speech the therapist concluded that it was likely that Fletcher had Apraxia, something they cannot technically diagnose until a child turns 3. Basically, Apraxia means that a child knows what they want to say but something isn’t wired quite right in their brain and it won’t allow the child to get it from his head to his mouth.

As the months went on, he did begin to talk more and say more words but they often came out very robotic, which confirmed even further that he might have apraxia. I warned you about Google right? Yeah, I don’t follow my own advice. I got on it again and looked up all the possibly scenarios that could come about with this diagnosis and then became obsessed with finding ways to help him overcome it.

Early detection is key; if you can work through some of these speech concerns before the child turns 3 you can typically overcome mild apraxia, like Fletcher seemed to be dealing with. At any rate, it was obvious speech was hard for him. Add to this cocktail that he is incredibly stubborn and sometimes would decide all together he didn’t want to participate. It was sad really, this normally super sweet, happy little boy would get so frustrated because he knew he wanted to talk and he knew we REALLY wanted him to talk and he couldn’t do it. If a word or sound were too hard he’d shut down. Everyone was frustrated.

Eventually we made progress. Fletcher loves animals so we started doing speech outside the home more often. We went to Deanna Rose all the time and I got a zoo pass and we went to the zoo at least once a week. On each visit I’d hear him say a little more or make more sounds.

This fall, things really took a turn and I’m certain the summer had a lot to do with it. Fletcher is so blessed to be the youngest of 5 kids. His older siblings are incredible to him and they got on the speech train just like the rest of us. They’d read him books and ask him to tell them what he saw, they’d wait patiently to give him something he wanted from them until he used his manners or said the name of the item. This poor little 2-year-old boy now had 7 speech teachers in the house all summer long.

But man oh man did it help…by August he was putting together 2 and 3 words phrases. Again, he talked like a robot, but I didn’t care, he was putting words together and people other than me could understand them. I think he talked that way partly because he may indeed have apraxia, but also because that is the way we communicated with him (a mistake I will correct later, but not soon enough in hind sight). I’d say things like “He is a bad guy” but literally pause after each word. I sounded like a robot too! He would say them back to me equally as slow pausing even longer “he bad guy”. But progress was being made and as hard as it was for me to be satisfied with that, in spirit with celebrating awesome I would try to be happy about any little change we saw.

Fletcher also really loves to read. He collects books throughout the day and each naptime or night when we’d put him to bed I swear there would be at least 5 new books in his room and he’d want to read every one of them. So for at least 2 times a day, at nap and at bedtime one of us would read him no fewer than 20 books and he’d listen intently while snuggling me. Not gonna lie, this was definitely one of my favorite parts about my day. It’s pretty rare any of our kids sit still very long but to get snuggles AND have a kid actually listen when I read, that’s pretty spectacular!

So somewhere between the endless reading, relentless speech therapy in house and our field trips, or “dates” as Fletcher began to call them, we made major progress. I don’t know exactly when he took off but something clicked and this little boy started talking in 4 and 5 word sentences. Still robotically but he was erupting in speech. Prior to this time he’d rarely say something spontaneously. I’d have to prompt him to get him to repeat it, now, we’d be at Deanna Rose and he’d say “ducks swimming in water”. I nearly cried, or did I? Yes, it’s me, of course I cried.

Also, did I mention he has the sweetest little voice? Maybe it’s because we didn’t hear it for so long or maybe it’s just because I’m a biased mom that thinks her kid is super cute, but holy hell, his voice literally kills me. It’s the best. You can see for yourself in the videos below.

His speech teacher couldn’t believe the progress he’s made and now, he says so much and almost all of it is spontaneous. He has conversations with his siblings. He named his new toy elephant Uncle Brent after his actual Uncle Brent. He can answer questions like “what are you doing” and give detail. It’s pretty incredible, it’s a total transformation from the time when he wouldn’t say a single word and barely made a sound all day long other than laughter.

It is a complete departure from a little boy who couldn’t clap or mimic raspberries or blow air from his mouth. Don’t get me wrong; he still has a ways to go. There are several sounds he can’t make, including F, the letter to 3 of the 5 kids names in our family. So Finley comes out “inley” and words like frog come out “dog”. But he’s trying and he now loves the little speech games we play and he asks to watch his ABC rap video I found on YouTube. Yes, I said rap. I mean seriously, who doesn’t love a good ABC rap?

So where is the awesome in this? There is so much! First of all, let’s celebrate his speech teachers; both named Stacey, who gave us strategies to use on our own that made a difference in his development. Let’s celebrate persistence. A wise person once told me, persistence pays off…I have always believed that. In this case, it has been true. Even though there were days I would have liked to go into a room alone and scream in frustration we all kept pushing him and he is speaking.

Let’s celebrate the awesome of the whole family pitching in. Gaga and Daddy are a given as they are adults who live here but seriously…his siblings were the best. They would make him use his manners before giving him something he asked for, they congratulate him and tell him good job when he used words instead of groans and mumbles. As a collective group Finley, Ellen, Cooper and Fiona spent hours on end sitting on the floor with him talking about his animals and trying to get him to repeat the words.

They were almost as excited as I was when he’d say a new word and come running to find me if I wasn’t nearby to tell me the new word they heard him say. I can’t think of much more awesome than siblings celebrating each other’s accomplishments. It was pretty darn special.

Let’s not forget to celebrate the awesome of hearing his little voice, which brings us so much joy and happiness.

In the grand scheme of life, his speech problems are not that big of a deal, he will learn to speak, just not on a typical timeline…there are a lot worse things.  Fortunately we caught his issue early and we worked to fix it. We will continue to do that until he can get all his sounds and all that he says is intelligible. But for today, I want to celebrate that when I took him to the zoo this week he looked at me and said “Mommy that rhino is pretty awesome”.

That’s 6 words my friends….6 freaking words at one time. And…..he celebrated awesome! And yes, a tear of joy did roll from my eye.

Fletcher below at his favorite place, Deanna Rose, having a conversation with the chickens!

Fletcher’s nightly routine now, we say I love you about a dozen times.  Not gonna lie…it’s pretty fabulous!





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