What Progress Looks Like: My Journey with a Late-Talker



It’s been close to two months since we completely dropped our speech therapist and I thought this was a good time to check in, really look at where we’re at, how Kate’s doing, and also give some guidance to any other parents who are thinking about going it on their own as well. And honestly, I couldn’t feel more validated in our decision. Not that Kate’s sprouting out whole-formed sentences or anything, that would, after all, be pretty unrealistic, but she is making progress. And even more important than that, I’ve really seen what her process is like.

Kate’s process for talking, is actually pretty darn simple. It’s when she wants to.

It’s only when she wants to.

I’ll back up for a minute and give a slight recap of what Kate’s speech therapy was like. We had a wonderful therapist come to our home, twice a week, and she brought in all manner of fun toys. They’d sit on a blanket and just play. Our therapist followed Kate’s lead and through that, she tried to get Kate to make sounds or even forming the mouth’s shape for different sounds (think of what your mouth does when you say, ‘O’). Kate loved these sessions, to the point where she’d rush to our therapist’s car when she pulled in. But while it was fun and Kate loved it, we saw almost no progress.

I mean, Kate’s attention expanded. Her view of the world grew and she was more aware of people asking her to do things, and certainly her receptive language improved (this is her understanding of language spoken to her), but no talking. In fact, no vocalizations at all… which was completely different to her normal, everyday life with mommy and baby brother.

I did a little experiment, saw what would happen if I started applying some of the principles I’d learned from watching the therapist and from my own mommy-senses… and was mildly surprised to see progress. Kate started nodding her head for yes and no, started venturing to more sounds. But this progress didn’t happen during any special play sessions where we sat on the floor played with toys. The progress came when she wanted more water or more grapes or she just wanted her little brother to leave her completed puzzle alone.

Translation: progress came from just living our lives.

So, my husband and I decided to give this a try, to just simply be Kate’s speech partners throughout the day and see what would happen.

Now, I’ve mentioned I’m not completely alone on this journey. I have a very qualified person coaching me, who specializes in late-talkers, so it’s not totally the wild west over here, but… sometimes it feels that way. I mean, here we are, dropping our regular therapy and striking out on her own. Whenever I mention Kate’s speech delay to most people the first question out of their mouth is if she’s in speech therapy.

But still, it’s hugely validating to actually look at where we’re at, as a family, and know that we’re doing the right thing. For Kate, we’re absolutely on the right path.

These past couple weeks have just confirmed it.

When we decided to say bye-bye to our in-home therapist, which was the end of November, Kate had exactly two words she said regularly: Oh and no.

That was it.

But now, however, Kate’s speech (for her) has exploded. I’ve heard her say about 13 different words on a regular basis. And by regular I mean she’s said it several times, even in one day, and she’s starting to ‘play’ with these words (I’ll touch on that in a bit). She also has a handful of words where she’s said them once or twice or three times, but it hasn’t moved over into that ‘regular’ category. And these one-time-words aren’t just simple words like ‘wow.’ Try “controller” and “all done” and “dinosaur.”

I about fell over.

Here’s a perfect example of Kate’s surprise words. One day she was finished playing Yoshi’s Wooly World on the WiiU and as I was plugging the controller back in I asked her, “All done?”

And she repeated, perfectly clear, “All done,” along with a little open-palm hand movement.

I know, right? Crazy.

And I’m just treasuring the simple sound of her voice, of simply what she sounds like. Because I didn’t know. I still don’t fully know because I want to hear more.

But all of these words came about during our regular day to the point where, as I’m trying to compile a video to my speech coach I’m having a hard time capturing those moments…. because I never know when Kate’s going to talk.

Oh, unless I’m driving. Apparently that’s a great time to start saying wonderful little phrases like “Hommy” (which is ‘Mommy’) or having one dinosaur eat another and continuously say, “No, no, no.”

But all of these words, all of them, didn’t happen during our special play time sessions, which is our only ‘official’ time I set aside for actual ‘therapy.’

Our special play time is a movement-based play, like pulling her on a blanket or swinging or bubbles. For my particular kiddo, games like puzzles are in her wheelhouse. She doesn’t need or want my help. But blanket swinging? Well, that happens to be great fun and she can’t have that fun on her own. I also focus on words like “more” and “pull” and “swing.” Words that have meaning, but are also part a routine which for Kate, equals safety. It also helps bridge that gap between words and fun. It’s that first, baby-step to one day playing a game of tag and hide-and-seek with her friends.

But again, the real progress, the real shine to Kate and her beautiful words, comes out during the rest of the day. When we’re just living our lives and I follow a few simple guidelines… like patience and keeping my words to her level, or my asking her to do more. The more I do this and the more I ask, “Can you go get me the baby wipes?” or “Can you pick up my phone?” The more growth I’m seeing. She’s learning new pieces of our confusing language. She’s learning new vocabulary (like ‘jacket’) and I’m also empowering her. I’m giving her more control of our daily life and trusting in her to do it. Now, that’s not to say she never needs guidance or help, like if she doesn’t understand what I’m asking or what this new word is, which is when I take the time to point it out or show her.

We’re partners.

In fact, one success I was quite proud of very early on was potty training Kate at 19 months. I had my reasons for this and one of those was again, to empower her. I wanted to give her this independence, to be free of her diaper, if that’s what she wanted. No, it didn’t happen overnight and yes, she needed my help with the process for a long while, but she understood where her pee and poop went. The rest of it, like being able to pull down her pants, wiping, dumping the little potty into the big potty… she wasn’t ready for that and so we went at her pace. Just this past week I decided to offer Kate that control as well. I guided her through the process, showed her what to do, and saw what happened. And again, I was amazed to see that she gladly accepted this control. She still needed prompting of the different steps, but then she started adding ones of her own like flushing the toilet (toilet flushing has always been a scary ordeal).

I asked her to do these steps in the potty process and she did it, because she wanted to.

And I think that’s been the real key to Kate’s progress. She’s talking more now, she’s playing with her new words, trying out other ones which she’s is still unsure of… but she’s doing all of this because she wants to.

I mentioned earlier about Kate playing with her words. What happens first is a trying out a word, like she did with controller or, just today when she nodded her head and said, “Yea,” after I asked if she wanted to watch a movie (she’s got a pretty icky cold right now and couch time with her blanket and bunny is all she wants.) I might here a few more “yeahs” or I might not. At least, right away.

At some point she’s comfortable enough to use a word more, like “bye.” I’ll recast this word back to her and perhaps add one or two more, like “bye-bye Daddy.” I’ll do this whenever she says the word and after some point (again, when she decides) she’ll make this into a word game.

Kate will look at me, smile, and say, “bye.” Or “hi.”

She knows what my response will be. She looks forward to it, and after I do my part, the whole, “bye-bye Daddy,” she repeats it. And the word, Daddy? It’s getting clearer and clearer every time she does it. It changed from a ‘Dah’ like sound to a very clear ‘dad-dy.’

Now, I’m sure there’s some manner of maturity playing a role, after all, she’s almost 3 1/2 years, but I also know this is happening because of the work I’m doing as her speech partner. It’s not happening because of any special assigned sit-and-play therapy time, but because I’m providing the right environment for her to feel safe with her words.

I’m also giving her the time and patience. I’m trusting in her process.

A huge part of my job as her partner is recognizing that, being aware of it, and just running with it. Life’s not perfect and I’m not either (believe me, I do fall down), but I keep getting back up and trying again. I keep working on my patience and I do my best to follow her lead. And so far, not only is it working, I’ve reclaimed my happiness. I’ve kicked out the worries and fears (most of them) and I’m enjoying the child I have and everything about her.

It’s a process and it’s a journey, one that won’t be over anytime soon. And while I’m moving forward, I’m going to surround myself with a team of professionals and friends who support what I’m doing, and most importantly, who support Kate.

This is all about Kate’s process, not mine, and certainly not some checklist that most ‘normal’ children follow. Very few people will understand how very special, and how big, this progress has been for Kate – and I think it holds true for any late-talker. Their story will be different, their process will be different, but I think in the end, the important parts are still the same.

Kate is talking. She’s playing with her words and with me, not because of any therapy or demands or pressure, but because she thinks it’s fun.

She’s talking because she wants to.


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