We noticed early on that Noah was a late talker. At first it wasn’t dramatically obvious, but certainly noticeable compared his friends. I did that thing that you aren’t supposed to do as a parent; I compared. I compared him to kids who were the same age, older, younger, boys, girls and fictional kids on TV. They all seemed to be able to say more and no amount of reassurance that children all develop at different times could persuade me otherwise.
When he was around 2, I clearly remember leaving a playgroup and one of his girl friends shouted “Look mummy! Be careful of the road, lots of cars coming”. Noticing the same thing Noah pointed and said “Daa. Biiii daa” and it felt like a huge difference to me. A lot of the girls we know are generally the better talkers, but this felt like it was more than just “a boy thing”.
We didn’t think too much more of it at that stage as he was still so little, but it began to feel more serious when his speech was flagged officially in his nursery reviews as being in the 11-16 months category even though he was nearer 2. However, they told us again not to worry and that he would get there, but at his 2 year check the health visitor finally suggested that there might be an underlying cause.
He could say about 30 words but a lot of these were hard to understand if you weren’t part of the family. In fact, often it was just me who was able to translate. Luckily he has never been hampered by not being understood and has always been a really sociable and demonstrative little boy. We’ve had some tricky moments for sure though! He was talking about “baaba didmah” for ages before I finally realised he meant Father Christmas! ‘F’, ‘Th’, ‘C’ and ‘S’ are all difficult sounds for him so he was really up against it. After some gestures and further attempts, he got round it by resorting to ‘ho ho ho’ and rubbing his belly!
The HV thought it might be a hearing issue, which although concerning, meant that we could start doing something about it. After numerous hearing tests, doctor and ENT appointments he was diagnosed as having reduced hearing due to glue ear in both ears. Glue ear is really common in little kids – it is when the fluid in the inner ear gets sticky due to a cold and the tubes are too narrow to clear it.
Imagine trying to hear with a pillow over your head and that’s what it was like for Noah while he was learning to speak. If you can’t hear properly, you can’t speak! He also saw an NHS speech therapist at this time but we were told to wait to see how having grommets fitted helped before considering speech therapy, although they did give us some resources to start working on.
He had the grommets fitted when he was 3, which felt like a long time coming and during which he fell further behind his peers. Having grommets fitted meant a small operation under general anaesthetic and although we knew he was in great hands I still had a wobble as they put him under the sedative and he went floppy and out cold in my arms, before being taken into surgery. We’d been told great stories about children’s speech transforming almost overnight once they’d had grommets so I was expecting miracles. It wasn’t to be as his speech habits were too ingrained, but thankfully his hearing is now perfect.
We have been told that the NHS speech and language service is hugely underfunded. At our review after the operation we were told he wasn’t able to have NHS therapy until the summer before he started school (2018), as they were certain he’d improve naturally. After a few more months with little improvement we got a second opinion from a private therapist, the wonderful Nicola at the Owl Speech and Language centre. Her assessment was brilliant and so helpful to identify exactly what his problems were.
He struggles to finish words, which is known as ‘fronting’ sounds – he says “buh” for bus or “ha” for hat, as he would have been listening so hard to the start of a word prior to the grommets that his brain would miss the end. He also still can’t say a lot of the letter sounds, or he replaces them with others – “dop” for “shop” or “binduh” for “finger”, and this is when we still have to translate for him and where the work is focused during his therapy sessions.
They are really fun and centre around play and phonics. Sometimes he’s great and engaged and, at other times, he is very self aware and reluctant. We never push it and let him lead the way, although it is frustrating when he won’t try just because he finds it hard. We also try to practice the techniques and games at home too; at the moment we are practicing the “F” sound using a “bite the bottom lip and blow out” technique!. We spend a lot of time looking in the bedroom mirror pulling funny faces to demonstrate to him how to make the sound. The good news is we are making progress and many of our friends and his nursery/preschool staff have commented on the improvements they can hear. If you don’t know him I’m pretty sure you could understand most of what he’s saying now and I’m really trying hard not to jump in and translate as much.
He continues to be the joker and loves to be the centre of attention. Maybe his lack of speech has made him more expressive even, he’s such a performer! He recently got up on the children’s comedy stage at Wilderness Festival to tell a joke; the punchline was “poo poo bum bum” and made no sense but he didn’t care and everyone laughed! I was so proud of him and I hope that this lack of awareness continues as his speech improves.
My advice for anyone with concerns around their child’s speech would be to first check they can hear properly and do it as soon as you can. I feel like we allowed too much time to pass, so by the time he had his operation he had already learnt a lot of bad habits. That said, plenty of children have grommets once they have started school and catch up quickly, their brains are pretty adaptive!
If you are in the NHS system then push for as much therapy as you can, I believe they work in 6 weeks intensive blocks and then give you a break to practice, but if you can have more therapy or pay for it privately then I’d recommend you do that. And, as for your little ones, giving them heaps of praise for any small progress made works wonders for their confidence and moving them forwards.
A Guest Blog from Laura Bentley
Laura is mum to four year old Noah, and two year old Zac and lives in Cheltenham with husband Alex. She works for a tour operator in Witney, training the new starters who join the business. She’s recently joined the Naunton Park Pre-school and Playgroup committee to help with fundraising and communications (and for the wine at the meetings!). She loves a bit of exercise and completed the Cheltenham Half Marathon and Blenheim Triathlon this year, raising money for Marie Curie.
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