Childhood Apraxia of Speech comes along with a number of challenges, especially with not seeing your child meet important communication milestones. It is very hard to see your toddler reduced to crying inconsolably on the floor because he cannot articulate that he would like jam on his sandwich or would like the bread cut in triangles instead of squares. It is hard not knowing how much of an understanding he has of the world around him or to be able to hear him express his thoughts. It is hard knowing that he will pass through that delightful age of curiosity where the “Why?” questions are so frequent and never be able to ask “Why?” It is hard hearing children of the same age or younger chattering away and knowing that my little boy struggles to say two syllable words or to put two words together. Or knowing he can’t even say his big brother’s name. Sometimes I have dreamt that Noah spoke his first sentence to me and then woken initially ecstatic, only to feel empty disappointment when I realised it was simply not true.
One of the joys of speech apraxia is that as parents you celebrate every new word that comes out. We clap and cheer every time we hear a new word or Noah makes a successful communication attempt. Initially I felt silly putting into practice all the suggestions on speech therapy websites – say target words often, simplify your speech and narrate all your activities, sing songs over and over again, prompt speech attempts at every opportunity, encourage clearer articulation with each attempt. Bit by bit, these have become part of my everyday interaction with Noah. Sometimes it has taken months for a particular word to come out, but what joy and excitement when it does! See, it was worth singing,”I dig, dig, dig with my spade” every time we sat in the sandpit to finally hear “Dig! Dig!” one day.
We also appreciate more the other ways Noah communicates with us. He has a great sense of humour and giggles and laughs and jokes as much as any other little boy. Facial expressions and gestures are often used to get his point across. He is very imaginative and it is quite entertaining to watch him construct a whole fire rescue scene and act it out with imaginary fire hoses, alarms, ladders and a whole host of sound effects. While Noah’s speech is limited, his ability to produce any range of sound effects is quite amazing. He is also quite musical and can sing or hum tunes fairly accurately. When we sing a song, he may get about two words out, but he fills in the rest with ‘de,dee, da, dum’. He even gives us concerts and stands up on the TV cabinet with toy microphone in hand singing his little heart out. His big brother Sam loves Noah immensely and the boys play games together just like any other siblings.
We appreciate that Noah is intelligent. He has focus and concentration not apparent in our hyperactive ball of energy, Sam at the same age. Noah is able to understand instructions. He often surprises us by running to get an item related to a conversation we are having. When I ask questions of him to test his understanding of preschool material, he is able to answer with “Yeah”, “No” or point to pictures. We have seen him pull off some amazing problem solving feats as well. Our boys used to use our flat topped bin to get a leg up into the pantry to raid biscuits. I replaced this with a dome topped bin to prevent this problem. One day I found Noah having removed the domed top of the bin, removed the garbage bag from the bin and turned the receptacle upside down to provide a nice flat surface to stand on while he helped himself to biscuits. Today he locked our bedroom door and the bathroom door in order to stop daddy interrupting his fun with a shampoo bottle in the bathtub!
Noah also has fantastic fine motor skills and loves tools, art and cooking. Construction (or de-construction) is his absolute favourite activity. He managed to use one of my husband’s screwdrivers to remove several planks of wood from the fort in our backyard and to disassemble his toy tool bench. Just today this progressed to removing the ladder from the fort. Noah’s fine motor skills are actually a blessing because many children with speech apraxia also have some form of motor apraxia.
One thing I have learnt is that Noah is not defined by his speech disability. He still has plenty of personality and potential, humour and abilities. Our job is to help him unlock and develop his giftings and abilities while we support him in developing his speech.