Such an interesting story! We have done #5 with all of our children.
by Lyndsey Mimnagh | guest writer for The Snap Mom
My story begins about two and a half years ago when my first child, Titus, was born. At the hospital they did the newborn hearing screen, and he failed. The test administrator acted very nonchalant about the results and said that failing is very common in babies born cesarean because the fluid doesn’t naturally get squeezed out through the birth canal. We brought our son home and everything seemed normal in regards to his hearing. Titus woke up to loud noises, turned his head to sound, and was comforted by my voice. He loved being sang to and got startled if something was too loud.
We scheduled a follow-up screening a few weeks later. The full hearing screenings for newborns are a huge ordeal. The baby has to be completely still for two hours during the test and if there is too much movement, the entire test is considered a fail. So, basically you have to have a very sleepy baby at the exact time of the test. Titus failed that screening as well, but once again they said it was likely the fluid from birth and to take him to an ENT. Month after month, appointment after appointment, back and forth from the audiologist to the ENT, we got no clear answers. We dropped it. Titus was responding to sound, and we were tired of these dead-end appointments.
Fast forward to Titus at 18 months old. He babbled and responded to noise like every other child his age, but we started noticing that he would hold toys that made noise up to one particular ear. We wondered if there was fluid in just one ear or an ear infection, so we went back to the ENT. Another six months of appointments with both the ENT and the audiologist. We finally got answers when Titus was 22 months old. He has sensorineural moderate bilateral hearing loss. In a nutshell, this means is that there is a disconnect between the sound that comes into his ears and the transfer to his brain. I was shocked. The reason he responds to sound is because it is not a complete hearing loss, but without amplification (hearing aids), he is unable to hear all the pitches of all the speech sounds, and in turn, he didn’t have ability to speak correctly.
When Titus was 18 months old and we were going to all these appointments, I had just delivered my second baby, Josie Mae, and she also failed her newborn hearing screening. We were told the same thing as we were with Titus at the hospital, but this time around we handled things more aggressively. I was recovering from a second cesarean, managing a newborn and a toddler, and dragging these children to appointments weekly to figure out what was going on. Thankfully, Josie had no signs of fluid and was a better sleeper than Titus, and we got her diagnosis early on. She has sensorineural mild bilateral hearing loss, so the same thing as Titus, just a little less severe.
When we got her diagnosis I was shocked once again. Neither my husband or I have any history of hearing loss in our family, nor did I personally know one person with hearing aids. Now, I am being told that both of my babies need hearing aids, and that it is very likely that the rest of the children we plan on having will too. We have not had genetic testing, but being that both of my children have hearing loss with no other conditions, it is most likely a recessive genetic condition. This means that my genes mixed with my husband’s genes caused the hearing loss in my children.
Since Titus didn’t get his hearing aids until he was just over 2 years old, and up until that point he was unable to hear all of the speech sounds, he has a significant speech delay. Along with going to an auditory-speech and language pathologist weekly, we are working very hard to encourage his language at home. I am devouring blogs, books, and taking an online class on the best ways to do this for my children. I want to share my top 5 tips on how to get your child talking, regardless of the reason for their speech delay or even if they don’t have a delay.
1. Slow Down
We are so used to a living, thinking, and talking fast-paced in our culture. We have a desire, and we want it met instantly. Even though the toys, entertainment, and calendars in our culture are go-go-go, that doesn’t mean that our children’s brains have the ability to be. So… *s l o w* down. Talk slowly to your child about everything you or they are doing and seeing. It’s ok that they don’t understand yet, just keep talking. Get down on their level and look at their face. Encourage them to look at yours. Bring the item you are talking about up to your face level when you say what it is. This encourages them to look at your mouth pronouncing the word. Pause and wait for them to respond, in whatever way they know how, instead of speaking for them and rushing to the next thing.
2. Model Play
This seems obvious, but sadly, unless we are intentional, we can look back on a day or a week and realize we didn’t play WITH our children. Sure, they were kept busy, but we didn’t actually get down on the floor and make the cow say “moo” as we walked it into the barn or the train go “choo-choo” around the tracks. How else will they learn? Assign speech sounds to toys and consistently play with your child using them. For example, we say “ahhhh” for airplanes in our house so Titus can work on that sound. He just thinks we’re playing, but there’s a method behind it. Tell your child over and over what they’re doing as they do it. It seems unnatural at first, but this introduces new vocabulary. Model something with a word attached to it and encourage your child to follow suite. For example, when playing with blocks, go sit beside your child and say, “I see you stacking the blocks up high. Up, up, up, go the blocks.” Say the word “up” everytime you put a new block on the tower, then hand one to your child and say up as he stacks it on. See if he will continue the pattern.
3. Sing, Sing, Sing
Start with simple songs about things that interest your child. Sing them everyday, multiple times a day and do hand motions if they have some. If they don’t, make some up. Some of our favorites are “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Five Little Monkeys”, and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. Once you can tell your child recognizes the song once you sing it, pause at different points of the song and look at your child, encouraging them to fill in the blank. Make up songs about things they do everyday, like getting into their highchair, washing their hands, or waking up in the morning. We have a song about eating mac-and-cheese, and it was during that song that Titus mastered the “ch” sound for the first time.
4. Clear out distractions
Our homes can be so noisy. The random toy going off in the bedroom, the dishwasher running, and the tv on in the other room. Hearing and speaking go hand-in-hand, so help your child by clearing out the noise. They need to hear you clearly to understand you and to develop their speech properly. Go more natural with open-ended toys or at the least, take all the batteries out of their toys to encourage the kids to be the ones making the noises. You want to hear your child’s voice making the firetruck’s siren, not the plastic toy making it for them.
5. Incorporate sign language
For a child with hearing loss or not, sign language is proven to help encourage language skills. I only taught Titus a few signs as a baby to help us through some frustrating situations, but now I really wish I would’ve gone full force. Just about every word that he knows verbally at this point, he also knows its sign. This is so helpful because if he says a word that I can’t quite make out, I can look at what he is signing and understand what he is saying. Not only does this ease frustration on his part, but it reinforces that what he is saying is correct when I respond to it rightly, rather than looking at him confused. It seems daunting at first, but it’s really not. We started to get serious about sign language about 4 months ago with a list of eight words. It thought it would be months before moving onto new words. Titus now knows over 50 sign words, and I believe that has been a huge contributor to his verbal language.
Editor’s Note: many people are fearful that sign language will replace verbal language. However, this is unfounded. If you’re concerned about that aspect, once your child learns the sign, you can stop using it and only rely on the verbal communication. Then as your child practices the verbal, they will likely drop the sign. It is much easier at first for babies to manipulate their hands than use the complex verbal system. It reinforces that words have meaning and that they can communicate.
A child learning to speak is a special experience that is both normal and magical at the same time. Let these tips move you both forward in your language journey.