Sunday, February 1, 2009

Speech is a Skill!


Rachel Coleman of Signing Time has a soapbox she gets on from time to time. She says, "Speech is a skill. English is a language. Spanish is a language. ASL is a language. Speech is a skill." If you don't closely know anyone with a speech delay or who does not speak for whatever reason, you may not see a reason for the distinction. The point is this. There are several different languages in this world. None is superior to the others. They are all language. American Sign Language is not a form of English. American Sign Language is its own seperate language.

Speech requires the coordination of several small muscles. Children across the board are able to coordinate the muscles required for sign language much earlier than they can coordinate the use of the muscles required for speech.

Jack is speech delayed. Because there are many people who know Jack that don't know sign language, they do not see his communication. Wow, I really like how I worded that just now. Is Jack's sign language textbook perfect? No, but hey, at least he knows sign language and you know what? He understands everything you say just as any other very smart 3 1/2 year old boy understands it. If you don't know sign language and you don't understand a word he signs, which one of you has the deficit?

He speaks more and more everyday so he is getting that coordination of muscles worked out. Hear me again. He is getting the coordination of his muscles worked out. If you were on a playground and you saw a kid that was "batting delayed" as in all the other kids on the playground could bat a ball pitched at them and this one kid could not, would you treat that child as if he were mentally deficient? I think not!

So what happened? Why the angry post? Jack receives physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy through our local school as part of his regular school day. At the beginning of the year, Jack was assigned to the physical therapist. He has done so well with physical therapy that she turned him over to the licensed physical therapy assistant. Since the LPTA took over, we received note after note that stated, "Jack did not cooperate with therapy today." While at home, we see Jack continuing to improve his balance and strength and coordination. After several weeks of this, I asked her for a meeting. Instead, she asked for a phone call and I am ever so glad that she was not within arm's reach of me. My first question to her was one that I was slightly concerned that she might find offensive because it is so basic to working with any child. "Do you tell him ahead of time what you want him to do?" Her answer completely floored me. "Well, yeah, well, kind of, I don't always 'cause I'm not real sure how much he understands." I stopped her before she could go on and stated "He understands everything that you say. You should assume that he understands everything you say. You should prepare him by telling him what you are going to do." The conversation went on with me giving her more BASIC tips on working with any child. Toward the end of the phone call, she said "I think maybe I just need to be more firm with him." AAAAUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHH! More firm?!!? [I just deleted the stuff I typed in here because it wasn't nice and really does not need to be said.]
I've talked with Jack's teacher who talked with the physical therapist. The physical therapist is supposed to be calling us to discuss how we want to handle things.

I now realize that this LPTA never actually gave me a reason for assuming that he does not understand things. I assume it is because he does not yet speak more but really for all I know it's because of the way he looks. Either way, the assumption is not terribly flattering for her and she should know better but it makes me so sad. I was so worried about Jack starting school. I have heard so many stories of children being underestimated and failing to thrive because nobody tried because it was assumed that the child just could not keep up. We were blessed with a wonderful preschool teacher and I let my guard down on that one issue.

Take the time to get to know Jack and you will be amazed at what he knows, what he thinks. I don't think we have even begun to scratch the surface of what he is capable of. In his short 3 years and 8 months, he has had 12 total surgeries--8 of those were brain surgeries--and he has had numerous tests that required anesthesia. He has severe obstructive sleep apnea that caused him a great loss of sleep in his first couple of years of life. Yet, he is developing at an amazing rate. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE MY SON. He is delayed at present but you are missing out if you are not paying attention to what he has to say. You may not understand him yet and that's okay, not everybody can learn a second language. One day, he will speak English more clearly and you will.


Anonymous said...

I haven't even finished your post, my jaw is on the floor. 'Not sure how much he understands'...if she is working with him like she would any other child, then she would be clearly aware of how much he understands. Glad you are taking care of the situation.

Zay'sMom said...

Oh. my. goodness. You are spot on about the skill/language thing. My Isaiah has just started making real progress with replacing signs with speech within the last year (he's 4.5). In the last couple of months he has stopped signing all together, although we don't understand a good portion of what he says yet. People do seem to think that if they can't talk, they can't understand, but most people aren't trained professionals who are supposed to know that speech does not equal understanding. His therapists, of all people, should get that.

Marie said...

Yes they should!

Peggy White said...

Every child's best chance of succeeding in life is an assertive parent...sadly the world is full of, well, you know. It's just so disheartening when they are part of your child's education system. You go girl! Maybe the therapist will learn an important lesson herself.