After using sign language almost exclusively for the first year and a half of Sunshine’s life with us, it is absolutely amazing to see such progress in her verbal communication now. Her cleft palate was repaired just about a year ago, and her verbal explosion since then is nothing short of miraculous!
She started weekly speech therapy sessions in November 2012, about four months after her palate repair. The first session was pretty traumatic for her, but Sunshine quickly learned that Lisa, her speech therapist, wasn’t going anywhere. She also came to find out that Lisa was super fun to play with and therapy sessions were actually pretty great. What toddler doesn’t love 100% undivided attention from an adult anyway?
Progress was a little slow in the beginning as Sunshine learned how to use her newly repaired palate, but she was such a hard worker and always pushed through. She tried over and over and over to get the sounds out of her mouth correctly. It was so beautiful to see her never give up or get discouraged. Ever so slowly, we began to hear more sounds that resembled words! We also began to hear more verbal words replace her signs. It was wonderful!
One of the biggest hurdles Sunshine had to overcome was replacing her glottal stop with the correct sounds for “k” and “g.” This is still an issue for her even now, but it’s a very common compensation that cleft kiddos do. Before the palate is repaired, kids will sometimes create sounds by stopping air at the back of their throats due to the lack of palate. Unfortunately it’s a bad habit to get into because it can be difficult to undo later. Sunshine can now successfully make the correct “k” and “g” sounds, but she’ll add in a glottal stop at the end of words sometimes, so we’re still working on that. Regardless though, hearing her properly pronounce those two difficult sounds is music to my ears! There are other sounds that are difficult for all children to create correctly, so we aren’t worrying about those so much right now (r, l, f, s, and blends).
Another thing we’ve been working on is putting words together to make sentences, as with any other on-target toddler. We started with one-word sentences, and then moved onto two-word sentences. We are now in the process of moving Sunshine from two- and three-word sentences into more complete sentences. She is pretty comfortable at this level and not in a big rush to move forward, but will happily repeat a full sentence if I ask her to say it. And she’ll occasionally pull out a several word sentence to surprise all of us!
Articulation is currently Sunshine’s biggest issue. She talks a lot. A ton. In fact, she doesn’t stop talking all day long. She has loads and loads of things to tell us. But we can’t understand most of it unless it’s in context. This must be terribly frustrating for her. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have so many awesome things to say and finally be able to say them, only to have no one understand me. But she doesn’t give up right away. She says it over and over for me, and will sometimes revert to a sign to express herself. Other times, she’ll let out a big sigh after trying for awhile and say, “nevahmind.” Oh that precious girl! It hurts my heart to see her give up on me, but more and more I am able to understand. We just keep on keepin’ on, and I know articulation will simply come in time.
Lastly, we are also encouraging her to express herself verbally to people other than family members. She is generally a shy child in public (which is pretty ironic, considering her true personality doesn’t have an ounce of shyness in it), so this is going to be difficult in general for her. She shows some progress when talking to other children or adult friends that she sees regularly. I think this is another thing that will simply take time, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Although it’s a long process, I am so proud of how much she has accomplished! In a very short time, she has gone from being completely sign-dependent to almost 100% verbally communicating. Sunshine still has quite a long road ahead of her, but I triumphantly celebrate every new accomplishment with her!