Although Little Bear is making progress with his speech and language skills all the time, I continue to have concerns about this area of his development. I think him being in school has made some things more noticeable. The fact that he is now away from me for long periods of time, in which I have no idea what he has been up to, sometimes leads to difficulties. I know a lot of children don’t like talking about their school day but I think Little Bear is often keen to share the things he has been up to but unfortunately he frequently still doesn’t have the language skills to be able to. I have to rely on things like the Facebook updates his class teacher posts or things other parents mention. If I have a starting point, Little Bear can then usually tell me something.
There are things that happen that he just can’t explain e.g. when he injured his eye at school requiring a trip to hospital, he couldn’t tell us how the injury had come about or why his eyelid was bleeding. We had to rely on another child’s account to get to the bottom of it.
There continue to be situations when I can’t understand what he’s trying to say to me and strangers certainly struggle. Thankfully his teachers seemed to have tuned in pretty quickly but I think there have been some communication breakdowns with his peers. They seem to be going through that phase where they tell each other that they can’t play or they won’t be inviting you to their party. It’s typical 4 year old stuff but Little Bear is at a disadvantage because he struggles to negotiate verbally. Where others might argue back or try to be persuasive, Little Bear has already used up his best attempt at joining in by saying “can I play?” If he is then rebuffed, his hurt feelings and lack of any other options still lead to a physical response now and again.
Little Bear is good at persevering when we don’t understand him now but he understandably gets frustrated when he has tried and tried and still can’t get us to. Sometimes his attempts at words are nothing like the target word so it can take a long time (even several days) to figure out what he means e.g. we finally worked out that “boarbuh” is actually ‘Paw Patrol’. He struggles to imitate words accurately so even though we have been tapping out the syllables for him and modelling each bit clearly, he can’t copy them in any recognisable way. Equally I used the word ‘soggy’ to describe a wet cardboard box. Little Bear already knew ‘foggy’ and now thinks that is both weather and a wet cardboard box. I just can’t get him to hear or mark the difference.
This morning I said to him “I’m not sure about swimming today, you sound quite husky”. Little Bear then said to his Dad “I can’t go swimming, I’m too whisky”.
There is definitely something going awry with his speech processing system. This system helps you to analyse the words that you hear, figure out what sounds they have in them, in what order, how many syllables etc. Your brain should then store the word accurately and send instructions to your mouth muscles of what sounds you need and how to make them whenever you want to say the word. Things can go wrong at any point in that process and I suspect there might be more than one problem with Little Bear’s speech processing.
However, all the phonics work that is happening at school is brilliant and will help with his speech development too. He has continued to surpass expectations by learning all the letter shapes/ sound correspondences in phase 2 phonics in the first half term. At school and home we are both focussing on helping him to hear and identify the first sound in words e.g. sun starts with s. This will be essential because it is all well and good knowing the letter shapes but he will not be able to read if he cannot break words down into their individual sounds and then stick those sounds together to make words. At the moment if you try to get him to blend sounds, he just can’t. You might say “c-a-t” and he’ll say “banana”. Blending is a very difficult skill so we will aim for identifying first sounds to start with and go from there.
We have made progress with the auditory memory side of things too and Little Bear is finally able to count! He can get to 5 reliably and to 10 with a little bit of prompting. The best thing about it has been his motivation to keep trying and his determination to succeed with it. He has a very similar attitude to learning his phonics.
When he first started bringing books home to read I got a little concerned. Obviously he is not expected to read words yet so he brings the picture books where you are meant to talk about what’s happening in the pictures. To begin with it was a disaster as he just didn’t get the concept of describing what he saw. I honestly felt it would have been easier to teach him to sight read a word. However, we persevered. I would get him to tell me whatever he could, usually just one word. I would then put that word into a sentence and model it for him. I used questions such as ‘who’ ‘what’s happening’ and ‘where’ to help him give the key information, then I could formulate the sentence for him e.g. Me: “who’s in the picture?” LB: pig Me: “Yeah, what’s the pig doing?” LB: “jumping” Me: “He is jumping. Where is he?” LB: “bed” Me: “Good, the pig is jumping on the bed”.
We continued like that, painfully, page by page, for some time. I assume that’s what happened when he read to his teacher too. He has done brilliantly though and now attempts a sentence for most pages most of the time. There might be some little words missing but he makes a good attempt.
I really noticed his progress when he had his first NHS Speech and Language Therapy appointment last week. The therapist assessed him using a picture description task. When he started giving answers such as “the man is riding a horse and the horse is jumping over the fence” I knew she probably wouldn’t be as concerned about him as I felt she should be or as she would have been had he been seen sooner.
Unfortunately it has taken 8 months and them cancelling 4 appointments for us to finally get an assessment. I didn’t find it a particularly fun experience, mainly because I wanted to be able to attend the sessions with my parent hat on, not my Speech and Language Therapist hat but when I walked in the first thing she said was “so you’re a Speech and Language Therapist I believe?”. Someone had helpfully written it on the referral form… Little Bear was also having some sort of regressive behaviour moment and suffice it to say that it was stressful to manage him with a professional looking on.
Either way, he is now in the system and will be attending for regular therapy soon. I’m not loving the idea of having to take him out of school for it and I don’t think he is either, judging by the size of the meltdown that took place when I tried to get him back to school after the first appointment. However, I know that school will carry out any programmes given to them and we have been talking about his Pupil Premium funding and whether any of that could be used to provide speech and language input that is more integrated with his education.
We are continuing to scale the word mountain that I talked about in Living with Speech and Language Difficulties. We are getting there, word by word, syllable by syllable. I don’t think the pinnacle is in sight yet but we continue to climb and that is the best we can ask.