Thursday, September 03, 2009

What Happened In Between

Last year when we realized that our speech language therapist was not a great match for Oliver and, without any alternative, decided to quit getting speech services altogether, we took a giant leap of faith. Since then we found a wonderful professional and the resources to contract with her. Oliver has been seeing her twice a week for a few months and we're happy with the whole scenario. Thrilled. He isn't making any huge strides that I can attribute, exactly, to the work he is doing with her but he is calm, cooperative, focused and happy to be there. For the first time in his little life he is not totally and completely distressed about working with a professional in a therapeutic setting. So, we took a break and now we're back at it, so far so good, right? But what I want to make note of here is what happened during that in between time because, in my gut, I think it made all the difference between disaster and success.

We took a break. My kid couldn't talk and yet we took a break from speech services. Kind of counter-intuitive, right? Yes, I thought so, too on some level. But it felt right and sometimes you just have to go with your intuition.

During that year there were many times that I despaired over Oliver's almost complete inability to understand what we were saying to him. He got some of it -- the rote, everyday kind of stuff. But if I threw something new into the communication loop it was met with a deer in the headlights look. I remember one particular episode when we were working in the garden -- I had piled a bunch of cardboard in the corner and Oliver's job was to bring it to me as I needed it to cover the paths between the rows. He got the idea and was game for his part but it was slow going and at one point, when he was at the pile and I was in the garden, I called over to him and told him to bring both remaining pieces of cardboard with him. He didn't get it. I tried again and he still didn't get it. I used different words and still, he didn't get it. Finally, I had to go over to him, we worked on it at close range and finally he got it and carried both pieces across the yard, but I was distraught. I remember reading that parents of non-verbal children should be careful of what they say around that child because it is likely that they understand a great deal more than we might assume. But I'm pretty sure that was not the case with Oliver. Someday I hope to be able to ask him.

Because Oliver had such limited receptive language ability I had a lot of techniques for helping him to understand what my words meant. I normally kept him within arm's reach if I wanted to communicate with him. I made sure there weren't a lot of other distractions around. I used lots of gestures and facial expressions, and I kept it pretty simple. I also gave him lots and lots and lots of time to process what I was saying. It wasn't easy. I couldn't just call to him from across the room and ask him to do something. I couldn't be in a rush. I had to focus all of my energy on helping him to understand what I meant. But I did it and pretty soon it became my habit.

During that time when we took a break from speech therapy I learned to worry less. Looking back now I wonder if my worry grew less because his ability to understand was also increasing. There was no point in time that I can refer to and say: ah yes, then he started to understand. It was a slow, slow, gradual thing.

Today, I can't believe how well Oliver processes receptive language. Really, I find it so amazing. I can find ten novel ways to tell him something and he will always understand. I can ask him to get something from another room and he can do it. I can give him novel, multi-step directions and he gets it more often than not. And gradually, I've had to pay less attention to how I communicate. I don't have to get up and move across the room to where he is standing (something that makes me totally blissful since I DO like to sit down, read the paper and have a cup of coffee now and then!). I don't have to eliminate distractions like I once did and I don't have to wait nearly as long for him to process. And remarkably, I have even started using adverbs to describe things and have been amazed to see that it has helped clarify meaning for him. How great is that??!

Oliver is still verbal-lite as I like to say. He is a boy of few words, for sure. But his words are slowly, slowly coming more easily and his sentences are getting longer. And this kind of makes sense, doesn't it? How can you use language to communicated if you don't understand the very meaning of words?

I don't have a whole lot more to add, except that I feel like we are in a much better place than we were even a year ago. Our lives are starting to feel normal. I'm less anxious. We laugh more. Life has gotten gradually, easier. We still have a long way to go, of course, but somehow the journey is lighter.

And tomorrow is a speech therapy day.


  1. Anonymous9:00 AM

    I love that you were brave enough to take a step back. I think that's something I need to remember, that there will be times when stopping a therapy that has stalled (for any reason) might make more sense than continuing.

    And I love this glimpse of the in-between because, clearly, Oliver has grown and matured and made tremendous strides. Thanks for sharing and for the reminder to slow down or stop once in a while.

    Makes perfect sense!

  2. You never fail to inspire me. I believe in your wisdom and patience.

  3. This is a wonderful post, and especially a wonderful example of what happens when we, as parents, slow down and take the time to really, really work with our kids. Slowing down our very selves, despite how unnatural it feels, makes such a difference.

    I desperately need to do this with Charlotte and her outbursts of anger. I have been so busy looking for a quick fix, and sometimes responding angrily myself- it's just not helping matters.

    This post has really inspired me today. Thank you.

  4. This is a gorgeous post -- very inspiring and thought provoking. I wish I could grasp how to apply this widsom to my own situation. :-)

  5. You don't know how happy this makes me feel -- happy and hopeful.

  6. Oliver continues to inspire and encourage me. And taking a break can be such a good, though scary, thing.

    Verbal-like...I love that.

    And isn't it amazing what a difference a year makes? Secondo starts school on Thursday and I feel so filled with hope and excitement for what I know this year will bring.

  7. Verbal-lite, I mean. :-)

  8. I am really intrigued by this. We are in the same boat you guys were a year ago. Receptive language is on my to do list lol! This post might just have given me the perspective I needed. Thanks:)

  9. You and me both dearie. I remember sitting in with the speech therapist to learn what she was doing so that I could learn to do it too. I also remember the agony of sitting there for 50 minutes with my totally silent son who wouldn't utter a single syllable [for which I was paying an inordinate sum of money out of pocket] and just feeling completely helpless. If she couldn't get anything out of him then what could I possibly do?

    I also know now that it's not about being a good or bad therapist of any kind, it's all about some chemical connection, either they click in and fabulous things happen or it's not a good fit so you just have to seek out a better fit. I'm delighted to hear that you've found that person and that everything is so much rosier, happier and with more laughter.
    Very best wishes

  10. One thing I've learned from my experience with my daughter,

    "Always go with your gut."

    : )