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As a parent, I think when it comes to talking about our children, it is only natural to worry about their development. We want to make sure they are keeping up and when we notice that they may not be, we stay quiet. Perhaps that’s because we are a little too proud, maybe embarrassed or even a little afraid that if we ask for help it may lead to judgement.
This was exactly how we felt at first when we started having our suspicions about Cassidy having a speech delay. However, after facing this head on and talking about it openly, I quickly realized just how common this can be AND yet how very little it is often talked about.
So, with this being said, I wanted to write this post to break the silence, create a community, give guidance and most importantly, show you there is nothing to be scared of.
From the time Cassidy was born, we never had any concerns regarding basic developmental milestones. She rolled around, she took her first steps at 11 months, said “dada” and “mama” and then would just talk in her own little language all day long. However, around the time she was turning 18 months, I started noticing how she wasn’t quite where she “should” be in terms of language. At 18-months, the CDC says that most kids “should” have about 20 single words in addition to many other things. Well for Cassidy there were probably only 5 clear words we could understand from her at the time. After consulting with our pediatrician, we decided to wait a couple more months and get closer to her second birthday before taking any steps. It was explained to me that a lot can happen right before two so it was best to just give it time. I agreed with this and decided to wait.
Well come October, 2 months before she’d be turning two, Cassidy still hadn’t made much progress and had no more than 10 full words. I knew by this point that she wasn’t exactly where she needed to be. She was still talking (more like babbling) in her own language but when it came to using real words, engaging with other kids her age, and even basic pronunciation, something was off the mark. I knew it was time for us to get a second opinion and see if it would be worth it to have her get help.
Thankfully in New Jersey, you don’t need a doctor’s referral to have an early intervention evaluation done so I was able to set that all up myself. I’m not positive how it works in other states but I’d assume it’s probably pretty similar. When it came time for Cassidy’s evaluation, it was done in 2 separate meetings. The first would be the actual evaluation with Cassidy and then the second was the follow up, where we’d review results and create a plan of action if she did in fact qualify.
**I’ve heard from a lot of mamas that have said that during this point, that many children may actually not qualify because what you think is a delay might actually be quite normal. Obviously that didn’t happen for us but all I can say is that if this ends up being the case for you and you feel it is incorrect, don’t be afraid to push!**
The evaluation in itself was fairly simple. A team of 2 people came to our house, one would play with Cassidy while the other sat at a computer observing and recording notes/scoring. They’d do structured assessments with Cassidy, using toys and fun things, but then also ask me questions as well. These questions were targeted to identify things such as language concerns, social concerns and fine motor concerns. Yes, even if your child is only showing delay in one area, they will take a look at it all. Just want to point that out so you aren’t concerned if you notice them looking into a different area of observation.
Oh, and lastly, because this entire evaluation is state provided, it was free! Another reason it’s totally worth having done if you feel there is any concern for your child. There is literally nothing to lose!
As you could have guessed based on this post, Cassidy did in fact qualify for early intervention therapies. The results of her evaluation showed that she had the language ability equivalent to an 11-month-old (not good for being 24 months old) but when it came to things like her fine motor skills she actually far exceeded her age (this is actually something I have heard can be quite common in kids with speech delays). Makes sense considering what a monkey she is with climbing everything. As for social development, we concluded that her lack of engagement wasn’t so much an issue but more a result of her not fully understanding when she hears other kids speak. Again, made total sense because she looked at kids like they were speaking a foreign language.
It was determined from here on out that she’d have early intervention therapy 1x a week here at our house and then additionally, 2x a week she would go to see a speech therapist. A speech therapist isn’t always necessary for each kid. Cassidy, however, has improper tongue positioning and needs to work on the muscles of her mouth, which will ultimately help with vocabulary and pronunciation of words.
For the past 4 months, that is until recently with the whole COVID crisis, Cassidy was having her weekly sessions. When our E.I. therapist comes to our home, she brings a whole slew of toys, puzzles, books and more. Basically, its likes Christmas morning for Cassidy because she gets so freaking excited to be able to play with things she’s never seen before. It during this time that our therapist uses things like mimicking, repetition, pretend play and more to help nail home some new words. Each week varies because it all really depends on how Cassidy is doing that day. Sometimes she does shut down because it may be a lot for her to absorb but when that happens, our therapist is so great and understanding to know when/how to give space and get her to open back up.
As for Speech Therapy, again up recently, we were attending our sessions twice weekly. Each appointment is only 30-minutes, short enough to teach and keep Cassidy engaged. These sessions are a little different because we focus more on activities that help Cassidy’s mouth muscles. We blow bubbles, sometimes eat food, drink out of various straws, and more. It’s actually super interesting to watch because they have so many tools to help get Cassidy on track.
Ultimately with everything, we have a set of goals we are aiming to achieve in the next year up until the time Cassidy turns three. At this point, we will then reassess her and if we feel she still could benefit from continued early intervention, she will get that help at our local pre-school, which is run out of the public elementary school.
Since beginning, the change we’ve been able to witness in Cassidy has been extraordinary. She has more than quadrupled the amount of words in her vocab but has also flourished when it comes to engaging with others, following direction and establishing independence. While we still have a ways to go, this entire experience has been nothing but positive.
If you are at all concerned about your child’s speech or any developmental milestone, I would highly recommend bringing it up at your next pediatrician appointment. OR if you don’t want to wait, give your state health department a call to get an evaluation scheduled. Trust me, I know how scary it can feel when you worry about your kids. I really really get it! However, by taking the initiative, I advocated for my daughter, got the help she needed, and have watched her thrive ever since. As for myself, I proved I could unleash my inner bear, putting all fears aside, I was able to speak up for my daughter, when she couldn’t do so herself!
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If you read our latest post, you know that our daughter, Cassidy, has a Speech Delay. While we owe a lot of her current success to the help of early intervention and speech therapy, I also have to give credit to the tools (or better yet, toys) that have helped us break through and see some real results. As with anything in life, repetition and engagement are so important to do and have if you want to learn a new skill. It is for this reason that I wanted to tell you all of our favorite toys that we have found have worked best in capturing Cassidy’s attention, spark that engagement and most importantly, teach her to speak.
Regardless of it your little one is speech delayed or not, below are our absolute favorite toys that will for sure help you increase their learning of language while playing.
Mr. Potato head probably has been a fan favorite for over 50 years and its easy to see why. It is truly great for so many activities and concepts. Not only is a great way to introduce body parts but it is also great for teaching to “put it on,” “take it off,” “put the shoes on”, etc. Additionally, you can use Mr Potato so demonstrate verbs, point out colors (“he is wearing blue shoes”), and even show how to take turns as you place each part.
I love Play-doh because it can be used for so many different things. Demonstrating colors, sizes, and verbs, the sensory nature of it really captures Cassidy attention. For us personally, I like to use it to get Cassidy to work on requesting “more,” seeing that it can be go in/out of its tub, matching colors to each top, and then even pretend play. We make balls, we roll it, we smash it, we cut it, we pretend it is a yummy piece of cake, and so much more.
I love pretty much everything Melissa & Doug puts out and with a love of Winnie the Pooh, this was a total must have. Not only is it totally adorable but it offers so much variety when it comes to lessons. Shapes, colors, counting, and so much more. I love being able to ask “where is Pooh’s nose?” While some of the shapes are still a bit advanced and tougher to say, it will continue to grow with her and come in handy as she gets older.
This is a classic. I know I had something similar as a kid and for being so simple, it was so exciting to play with. From colors to verbs, this is another great hands on toy that allows for your child to see cause & effect and work on piecing words together.
This is a tool our speech therapist loves to use for a multitude of reasons. Even though it at first seems like a more advanced toy for toddlers, you can easily simplify it. Another great cause & effect tool, you can show how the pig “eats,” how it “pops,” how it “opens” or “closes.” Additionally this is a great tool to help show how to take turns feeding the pig while working to further improve those fine motor skills by using the spatula to load them in his mouth.
Before Spencer arrived, and even after, this has been a great way to communicate with Cassidy regarding her new sibling. With her doll, she can help “feed” the baby, “burp” the baby, and even put the baby down to sleep and say “night, night.” Definitely a must have if you are pregnant or might ever be with your little one around.
Because Cassidy is a more hands on learner, I have to get creative to try teaching without overwhelming her. This was a recent easter basket gift that has been great for teaching colors and words like “on/off” or even shapes if you draw them. I love that I can do this during our regular bath time and she doesn’t know any different. She loves them!
These aren’t the exact puzzles we own but rather we have ones with Disney characters instead. We have a huge Mickey Mouse Clubhouse fan here so that helps get her to focus. Despite this, puzzles are another hands on way to teach shapes, animals, or anything the might be in the shape of. For us, Cassidy has really gotten down the names of all Mickey’s show, such as Pluto, Donald and Minnie.
From colors, counting, and more, I have seen people use this piggy bank in so many way to teach kids new fine motor skills and words. While I’ll admit the sounds are a bit obnoxious, kids love seeing how they can put a coin “in” and hear the sound that results. Additionally, if you google this bank and being used with speech, there are so many blogs out there that give cool new ideas for how to change them up based on the lesson you want to teach.
This was a Christmas gift for Cassidy this previous year and it has been a great toy for not only pretend play but also for increasing her vocabulary of fruits, colors, and verbs like “cut.”
I love using bubbles with Cassidy and it seems so do our speech and early intervention therapist. It really is a fun and great way to get kids to participate and try. Seriously, with blowing bubbles I have noticed how easy it is to quickly gain and hold a child’s attention or calm or engage a fussy child. Our infant son loves them. Best of all bubbles are inexpensive and can be used anywhere. For us, bubbles are a great way to teach “your turn/my turn.” It has also been a great tool for us to get more communication opportunities and teach things like more, again, want, pop, blow, dip, all done, up, down, in, out, on, off, and me. Lastly, for Cassidy specifically with developing pronunciation, perfecting words like “pop” are awesome for her to strengthen her “p” sounds.
I know this may not be a common one you’d think of but if you at all have a child who is a fan of a movie, show or book, it may be worth looking to see if there are figurines you can get. Cassidy loves pretty much all things Disney and Pixar so we have entire collections from Monster Inc, Moana, Fancy Nancy, Toy Story and more. Since she recognizes them from the TV she has started to pretend play more, say their actual names and even repeat catch phrases like “reach for the sky” or “to infinity and beyond.” Seriously, its incredible.
These simple toys are deceptively amazing, and can be used for some many things/ concepts. For us, stacking cups have been great to help teach size, big and small, or big, bigger, biggest. I’ve also used these to show turn taking, teach and reinforce colors, and counting. Cassidy loves counting from 1-10 and then knocking them down, which in turn has led to her learning words like ” uh-oh,” “down,” and “all done.”
For less than $5 on amazon, I have 3 different sets of these flashcards and let me tell you, Cassidy loves them and has learned so many new words because of them. Since she can see exactly what word we are asking her to repeat, she has quickly been able to memorize and retain that information. Apple is probably her new favorite word, in addition to “baby,” “pebble,” “shoes,” and “ball.” From colors, shapes, to animals, there are tons of variations of these cards. Plus, with a touch & feel aspect, your little one can once again get hands on.
Lastly, books are always a great way to teach kids new words but not all books are created the same. For those first learning, it is best to start with simple, illustrated books that have repetition. Personally, when we pick a book, we will continue to read it nightly for at least 2 weeks before switching. At this point, Cassidy has heard and started memorizing that she will fill in the blanks as we read. Currently, our top 4 favorites are “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”, “The Pout Pout Fish,” “The Going to Bed Book,” and then “The First 100 Words.”