My son John Edward was diagnosed with autism when he was two. He received great services (speech therapy, occupational therapy and special instruction from an early childhood special educator) starting at around 20 months, and has made great progress. At four years old now, John Edward talks, a lot. He is in a regular education classroom with special education for 30 minutes a week and speech therapy just twice a month! Here are the lessons that stuck with me from our first speech therapy experience:
Focus on one thing at a time.
As adults you think you can just go about your day and explain things to your child and they will learn about the world, but with a child with special needs that’s not always the case. When we realized John Edward wasn’t talking and learning as much as we hoped, we started worrying and trying to teach him everything. But trying to teach him 100 things at one time was too much for him. He was overwhelmed and stressed. We learned that by focusing on one word or concept over and over again, he wouldn’t get so overwhelmed and he would eventually learn it. It took a lot of repeating, but once John Edward got the word or concept, he had it. Then we could move on and focus on the next thing. Slowly at first, and then more quickly, John Edward was learning new words each day.
A child can’t learn everything they need in just an hour (or two, or even twenty) a week.
John Edward had a lot of difficult behaviors back when he couldn’t communicate. People asked me all the time if he would outgrow them. My answer was always “No, but he can outwork them.” And that’s what we did.
If you too can reinforce on a daily basis, even in small ways, those tools and lessons given to you by your child’s therapist, your child’s progress will be maximized. I found it wasn’t enough to only rely on the short time that the therapist had with him. When it got difficult or I didn’t feel like it, I would remind myself that if you don’t work with kids when they are young, you aren’t going to WANT to when they are older. I just know that there is part of learning that slowly closes as kids get older and it becomes more difficult to teach them, language in particular. When they are young you have such a much better chance to make a difference in their life. And now that John Edward can play, talk, and have fun, I know it’s because of the work that was put in at a young age by him, his therapist, and us (his parents).
But most important, MAKE IT FUN!
If it’s not fun, they’re not going to learn. They’re kids, after all. And play is what they’re supposed to be doing. But we had to remember to get on John Edward’s level of fun. Even if it doesn’t seem appropriate to you, for a child with special needs, their level of fun might not be what a typically developing child would have fun with. For example, falling down was more fun for John Edward than playing with racecars. So we would play the fall down game. We would work on following simple directions, like “stop”, while we played the fall down game. Him understanding the word “stop” was such an important thing for me for safety. Once we practiced “stop” with the fall down game, I could say, “stop”, even when we were walking down the street and he would do it. That meant so much to us and I don’t think he would have gotten it if we hadn’t had fun while learning it.
Good luck to you with your child, no matter how much they may talk or not talk (yet), and if your child is struggling don’t hesitate to seek out support from other parents. You can find me by looking for Lacy on the Little Stories Facebook page. I’m happy to chat with you and be part of your support circle!Email this article »