Communicating Partners, Spring 1998 Newsletter

Letter from Barbara
     A few days ago my son Mark came home from school and said, "Listen...Thursday, thumb, think." This was the first time I had heard him say the "th" sound so clearly. He was obviously very proud of himself and said several more "th" words, demonstrating that he knew exactly how to place his tongue.
     I was so excited, I told him, "You are getting to be such a good talker you could be a speech therapist when you grow up!"
     "You could help other boys and girls learn to talk."
     "No! I don't want to be a speech therapist. I want to work in the cafeteria and have a cash register."
     "We continued our conversation talking about all the speech therapists he has known. We talked about other jobs he would like to have when he grows up. He had a snack then went outside to play with the neighborhood kids. He likes to talk, he likes his speech therapists, but it isn't something he wants to do when he grows up. Of course I wasn't serious, but our conversation did make me realize how difficult it has been for him to learn to talk. Learning to speak clearly is even more difficult.
     "Because he has Down syndrome, his speech has been slow to develop, but now that he is 10 years old, I have seen much progress. All those years of practice, both at home and at school, have been worth the effort, and I believe his speech will continue to improve. He is trying harder than ever before to speak more clearly. He enjoys talking to everyone, both friends and strangers, and this motivates him to improve.
     "There are several things I do to help him speak more clearly. First, I keep him in conversations throughout the day, talking about anything he wants. This gives him practice making different sounds. When he was younger, we often just made sounds or said simple words back-and-forth, but as he has gotten older we have real conversations. I usually say the words he has trouble with slowly and carefully, oftentimes showing him how I place my tongue and teeth. He will repeat the words several times trying his best to say them clearly. I think of these conversations as "playing" with words. We don't always have a particular reason to talk, we do it for fun and practice.
     "Usually we start talking as soon as he wakes up. Like many boys, his first sentence on school days is often, "I can't get up. My stomach hurts." (The "s" sound was difficult at one time, but now is very clear, I'm happy to say, so I don't even mind him saying this!)
     "He would like to stretch this conversation out for several hours, but this is one time I keep it short and to the point: "Get up, Mark!"
     "After he is awake and sitting at the kitchen table, our conversations become longer. "What's there to eat?" he usually asks. I tell him his choices. All his favorite breakfast foods have that difficult "ch" sound so he has a chance to say them often: Cap'n Crunch, Cheerios, bagels and cream cheese, toast and cheddar cheese. Then I ask him if he wants milk or juice to drink. The 'j" sound is also hard for him, so saying, "juice" gives him more practice.
     "One day last week he wanted something new. "I don't want juice or milk to drink. I want cappuccino and Cap'n Crunch."
     "You want cappuccino? Third graders don't drink cappuccino for breakfast!"
     "Yes, they do!" Then he named several of his friends who he was sure did drink it every morning. Since he was saying the word so well, and doing his best to act very grown-up, his older sister gave him some of her coffee with cream and sugar. He sipped it very slowly and asked what the cafeteria at school was serving for lunch that day. I looked at the menu and told him, "French bread pizza." More "ch" to say! He said he wanted to buy his lunch.
     "This is a typical day at our house-- lots of interactions, lots of sounds to practice. I repeat the words he has trouble with slowly and clearly, and he tries again and again. I keep my sentences short enough he can hear the words clearly and say them. I have learned to keep our conversations balanced by waiting for him to take his turn. Talking less and waiting can be difficult for adults to do, but I have found this has helped my son's speech development.

Barbara Mitchell

  Revised: July 6, 1998.