Three years ago there was one question I asked every person I met, every professional and every support group. It is a question I now get asked all the time, and a question which I see asked on support groups every week.
That question is “When did your child start to talk?”
The answers are always varied. You get the one word responses detailing the age of people’s children, and then you get more specifics, like “My son could only say one word a year ago, and now he doesn’t stop” or “My daughter just started talking in sentences” or “I’m still waiting, my son is nine next week”.
Human nature means we look for the answer we want to hear. If your child is four, you will be drawn to the response from the kind lady with blonde hair who has written “My son said his first word at four and a half”
You will breathe a sigh of relief and believe that your child will be the same, and in six months time your child will say their first word too. I mean why wouldn’t they, the kind lady on Facebook wrote that her child did? Why would yours be any different?
But your child is different. They move at their own pace and have their own strengths and challenges.
So after waiting six months, and your child has still not said their first word, you will find yourself back on that support group or Google, looking for the next response, possibly coming across a response from dark haired Dan whose son went from non-verbal to talking in sentences at five years old. You relax once again and assume your child will be the same.
You need to stop asking the question “When did your child start talking?” because you are asking a question which has no relevance to your child. You are comparing your child’s circumstances to someone else’s child, one you have never met and know nothing about.
I know what it is like. I have been there. I asked the same question. I wanted my son to start talking, because in my head, that would make everything OK. If he talked, everything would be solved!
It’s not that easy. But there are ways to make it manageable. And that starts by asking the right questions!
Change your perspective and change the question.
Ask, “How did you get your child to communicate?”
Communication is so much wider than verbal speech. A child may be able to talk, but has not yet developed the perceptive language to associate words with real word objects. Similarly a child may not be able to speak verbally, but they are able to understand language and communicate with a device, pictures or sign language.
If your child drags you by the hand to the fridge and points to an apple, they are telling you they are hungry and want a snack. They can do that without saying a word.
The moment my son signed the word “more” to me with Makaton while blowing bubbles, we were communicating even before verbal language was possible.
I cried buckets over the worry about my son’s speech. I asked everyone the question “When did your child start to talk?” But trust me on this, none of the answers to that question were any help to us, they just upset me more. They set up expectations that were never met.
Forget about getting your child to talk, and focus on getting them to communicate. Ask the question “How did you get your child to communicate?” The answers you get to that question will allow you to implement changes, improve engagement, and move towards having a conversation with your child.
The answers to that question will give you strategies and tools to help you increase engagement with your child, help you ask what your child what they want and need, and also let them tell you how they are feeling or what they are thinking.
All before they even say a word.
Speech is the last bit of communication in the process. Forget about getting your child to talk, and focus on communication. This switch in mindset will move your child through the steps to communication and finally speech. And if they don’t reach speech, you will have a selection of different ways to communicate.
Because at the end of the day, we all want to just have a conversation with our child. But that communication is not always verbal.
Click here to read how I got my son to communicate.