Thursday, May 5, 2016

Speechless

When Rachel came to us at 21 months, she had one word in Chinese. Mama. That was all. Mama meant " Mama", but it also met "Daddy" and "I want up" and "more, please". I had learned the Mandarin words for "eat" and "sleep", "ball" and "shoe" and other typical toddler words, but I never heard Rachel say them. I really didn't hear her say anything at all. I followed our guides around asking "Did you understand that sound she just said?" They didn't. Rachel really did not seem to have any expressive language. Not that she didn't communicate - she did, with pointing and gestures and made up sign language and, of course, her ability to charm anyone. We knew what she felt and what she wanted, she just didn't talk.
I had set up an appointment with our local early intervention team before we even left for China, because I was concerned that Rachel might have fine motor delays since she was missing her left hand. Ha! By the time we met for Rachel's evaluation two weeks after we arrived home, I knew that fine motor skills were not an issue at all. But speech was. Rachel was already following simple directions and conversations in English, which she had never heard before meeting us, but her vocabulary now consisted of only two words. Mama. And "no". The early intervention teachers and I agreed that this was more then just adjustment to a new language. Rachel clearly had severe speech and language delays.
Just before she turned 2, Rachel started speech therapy with an early intervention teacher. Miss Linda came to our house or daycare and worked with Rachel twice a week. We talked to her and read books to her and played games that rewarded her for every squeak she made. Rae picked up receptive vocabulary at a tremendous rate (probably due to the books she adored - no story line, just endless pages of photographs and labels. Fruit: apple, banana, orange, watermelon. Farm Animals: cow, horse, pig, sheep) but spoken words were slow to come.
It took Rachel nearly three months to say some approximation of Katherine's name. And even then, it was just an unvoiced "Tuh-tuh", like the sound T makes. Granny, one of Rae's favorite people in the world, didn't have a spoken name for close to 5 months. But little by little, words did come. Shoe. Book, Kitty. More. Noodles.
When Rachel turned 3, she started preschool, receiving speech therapy at school. She loved school and was more than happy to go to speech. She used one or two word phrases, but her articulation was so poor that most people couldn't understand anything she said. She continued to work on increasing the words in her vocabulary and now also worked on trying to pronounce them clearly.
Rachel continued preschool and speech therapy when she turned 4. She had many words now, and more of them were intelligible, but she used phrases instead of sentences and rarely said more than 4 or 5 words at a time. Her pronoun usage was also...interesting. As in, "Her came to the store." She also never used the word "they", preferring to list all the people being referred to rather than making them a group.
By the time Rachel turned 5, she talked All. The. Time. It was like she needed to make up for the years without words! Her sentences were longer and most people could understand her, but she was still working on specific sounds in speech.
Rachel started kindergarten when she was 5 1/2. She loved being at school all day and looked forward to speech therapy because it meant hanging out with Miss Sally, whom she adored.  She continued to work on speech sounds, especially "r", "th", "v". She also worked on the word order in sentences and remembering to use all the little words. She tended to say things like "We go to the store" instead of "We are going to the store".
Speech therapy continued in first grade. Rachel was still happy to go, because she could hang out with Miss Sally and snoop on what all the other kids were doing. She frequently commented on the sounds other kids were working on and sometimes even informed me that so-and-so needed to be in speech because he didn't say "S" right! By this point, Rachel had fixed all the sounds but "r". That pesky "r" is the last sound to develop in English and it is hard! We spent our drives to and from school practicing rrrrrrrrrrrrabbit, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrooster, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrocket, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrain. I told Rachel that if she fixed the "r" we would go out for Rrrrocky Rrrrroad ice cream. She reminded me of that every couple of weeks.
Rachel started second grade and turned 8. She still went to speech therapy every week, although most people were surprised at this. The girl talked constantly and to most ears, perfectly! However, she was still working on the tricky "r" sounds in the middle of words. Words like "airport" or "workroom" or "harder" with an "r" in the middle and one near the end were still tough. She practiced, though, and often stopped to correct herself. Her days in speech were ending, and she knew it. She only went once a week, now, and while she still loved Miss Sally, she was starting to get frustrated with her classmates who didn't want to work hard on sounds. And she kept checking to see if the Rocky Road offer was still good.
Today, Rachel graduated from speech. She went to her final session and brought home a certificate. After 6 1/2 years of hard work, her expressive language skills are perfect! We stopped for ice cream on the way home. Rocky Road, of course. And the celebration was pretty sweet.

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