June 8, 2011

A secret language, part 2

This is the second part of a post I started on Monday about SB's progress. If you didn't have a chance to read it, it would be best to start there...

          Sometimes, SB can make a sound at the end of a word, but not at the beginning. For example, she says, "baff" for bath. But she is unable to make the "f" sound at the beginning of a word, like fish. (Or, apparently, french fries.)
          There are times when she says a word clear as day. Other times, what she says is pretty close to what she means. When it's not, it's guessing game time.
          I can often determine what she means by the context in which she is speaking. She may be repeating something she just heard. Or telling me about something she sees. I repeat back what I think she said to confirm. I may have to do this a couple of times before I get it right.
          Other times, I have absolutely no idea what she is saying. She will repeat herself over and over and I will try desperately to understand. I will watch her mouth. I will try everything I can think of to figure it out, but a good deal of the time, I can't.
          This is where signing has been invaluable. While in general SB signs less as she is talking more, she is able to use a sign to help me understand her words. Using a sign while saying a word makes it crystal clear. And, once I know what that "word" is to her, we're off and running.
          If that fails, she will physically guide me to and then point to the object. She rarely becomes frustrated. She knows I sincerely want to understand her. And, I work very hard not to let her sense my frustration.
          There are times I have had to say, "Sweetie, Mommy is so proud of you for using your words, and I really want to understand you, but I just don't know what you are saying." It breaks my heart when I have to do that.
          I rarely repeat SB's special words as she says them. I speak normally, not to admonish her, but to model for her how they should sound. That is how all children learn language. And as long as you do it in the right tone, it should not feel like a correction.
          One of her speech therapists told me in our conference I could try breaking words up as I say them, or emphasizing the various sounds of the words in my speech, to help her be able to repeat or imitate them. It's easier for her to say certain words in parts.
          For example, "That was really f-un!" Which is similar to what you do when you are helping a child learn to read; you break words up into parts. I am going to start trying that to see how SB responds.
          Because I am able to understand more of what SB says than anyone else, I have become her personal translator, both when she is interacting with other children and with adults. People often look to me once SB has spoken to either verify their understanding or clarify what it was she meant.
          This has turned us into a team. We work very well together, and it often feels like we have our own secret language. In a way, it is very special and sweet. But it can also feel very isolating. For me. I don't know if she feels disconnected or not.
          It won't always be this way. SB will speak normally at some point. She may not even remember the secret language we now share. But I know the special bond we have formed over this experience will never disappear.

I have a new post up at And Nobody Told Me! Check it out!
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