Our son turned three a little over six months ago. He is the sweetest, kindest, funniest, and smartest little boy I’ve ever encountered (I guess I’m biased though). He’s also extremely physical. He was walking at 10 months old, running and climbing soon after, and we’ve been chasing him and trying to keep him from killing himself ever since (he has no fear whatsoever). His motor skills have always been way more developed than for his age. That’s the awesome thing and we totally celebrate and love that.
The challenge though has been that since he’s always put so much mental energy into mastering everything physical, he’s behind on his language skills and pretty much always has been. He has no medical issues. He has no formal diagnosis of any kind. So that firmly plants him in the category of “late talker” (nowadays it’s actually “lazy talker” since he talks all the time now, but we’re working on making new letter sounds, not dropping the ends off of words, completing longer sentences, saying all the syllables of a word, etc).
I remember being so frustrated when I tried to research what was happening with him. It seemed like I mostly came across situations where kids had special needs or medical conditions that affected their speech. That wasn’t us. Then when I happened upon situations that seemed similar to ours, the advice was mostly “they’ll grow out of it”. That didn’t sit right with me. I just knew there had to be things we could do to support him, help ease his frustration, and help him build language and communication skills.
The following is a list (in no particular order) of things we’ve done and that we felt contributed to the incredible amount of success we’ve seen in the last year and a half or so (there’s a whole other list of things we tried that we felt like didn’t make a difference!). He’s gone from maybe 10 words and a couple of signs, to more words, phrases, and sentences than we could possibly count. We’re definitely not done with this journey, but we can absolutely see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope you find some encouragement and new things to try.
Books, Books, and More Books
I’m sure you’ve been told this already, but reading to your little ones is really just one of the very best things you can do for their all-around development. When he was younger, we loved this First 100 Words book and all the Sandra Boynton books. But, really, we read him any books we can get our hands on!
We’ve always spent a little bit of time reading each day, but we made this a really big priority and increased the amount of time drastically in the last year. I still spend about an hour a day reading books to Boy 1 (during meals, before sleeping, to wind down in the afternoon, etc). And now he can even recognize some sight words and ask questions about the stories!
Talking About Everything in His World (Lots and Lots of Talking)
Once we realized he was delayed with his speech, we kicked the talking to him into high gear. Of course, we talked to him all the time before – but we really got diligent about explaining everything that was going on, doing sensory activities that could help get him talking, taking him new places and talking about what we saw, etc.
In all honesty, this was exhausting for introverted little me. I felt like I was talking all day long (without anyone talking back to me, in the beginning). But it’s been worth it. Boy 1 is a very inquisitive little boy now.
Ditching Processed Foods, Lots of Sugar, Artificial Colors, and Gluten
But our philosophy is this – he’s going to get all that junk when he’s away from us occasionally, so when he’s at home, he doesn’t need it. Not only do we have an overall healthier boy, but he sleeps better, he doesn’t act as nuts, he’s more focused when it’s time to learn, his digestion is better, and he has reduced inflammation in his body (and that means his brain too).
If you’re struggling with some sort of learning impediment with your kids, it makes so much sense to start with their food when trying to find solutions. Do your research, folks.
I used to think that baby sign language was something that weird moms did (sorry!). But then I saw how just a few signs drastically decreased Boy 1’s frustrations and brought some peace to our home.
You know what else I realized? The first words Boy 1 started to say were the ones he knew signs for. It was pretty incredible. We like these baby sign language videos.
Early Intervention Services
We have access to wonderful (and free) early intervention services here in Ohio. If you’re concerned about your child’s development in any way, I highly recommend that you pursue these services if they’re available to you. Here’s information about early intervention services in Ohio.
When Boy 1 was newly two, we had these folks come out and evaluate him and (no surprise here) he qualified for services. A couple times a month someone would come to our house and play with him and give us tips on how to encourage his language and communication skills. We really saw Boy 1 improve a lot during this time. He came out of his shell a little bit. He gained more confidence in his ability to communicate by learning new signs and new words. It was a great experience for him and for us.
Drinking Through a Straw
Boy 1 has been drinking through a straw for a really long time because I remember reading that sippy cups really aren’t helpful when it comes to oral motor skills. Here’s the thought process behind that (taken from here):
When a child drinks from a sippy cup vs. an open cup vs. a straw cup, what they do with the muscles of their mouth varies. A sippy cup is the same swallowing pattern as a bottle. An open cup and straw cup require more movement and control from the lips, cheeks, tongue and jaw. When drinking from an open cup or straw, the tip of the tongue elevates behind the top teeth to push the liquid back to swallow. When drinking from a sippy cup, the spout is in the way, impeding the tip of the tongue from elevating. This creates an abnormal swallowing pattern, rather than a correct one (Bahr, 2010).
Holding Objects Next to Your Face and Naming Them
When he was hardly talking at all, we would just hold everything next to our faces and name each item before giving it to him (“book”, “cup”, “block”, etc). I really think this helped him to quickly have a large vocabulary once he started talking because he’d say words and mention things that we hadn’t said to him in a really long time. I love that little memory of his!
The equivalent of this now that he’s older is that I’ll point to my mouth when I say a word or correct something he said. He’ll watch my mouth and then point to his own mouth and try saying it again. These days, the goal with this is to get his attention, have him slow down, get him to look at my mouth, and get him to try again (which he always does and he’s so proud of himself when he says something perfectly!).
Supplements and Essential Oils
In all my searching around, I came across this blog post that mentioned a neurologist-recommended supplement called Balanced Essentials. At the time, we didn’t really have Boy 1 on a solid supplement plan, so I figured I’d give this one a shot. We quickly saw a difference in Boy 1 after we began giving him Balanced Essentials. He started signing more. He was forming more words. It was amazing. He still takes it (about a teaspoon in his NingXia Red, mentioned below) every day.
There’s also some research out there to support the use of additional B vitamins for speech delays. So my husband snagged him a liquid B vitamin supplement from his office (my husband is a chiropractor) and we began giving him a few drops a day (in his NingXia Red, mentioned below) of this around the same time we started him on Balanced Essentials. He took this supplement for a period of time. He no longer takes it.
Because there’s a close connection between abormal gut flora and abnormal brain development, Boy 1 also gets a probiotic daily. Our whole family uses Bio-Kult. I just open up a capsule and dump it into his NingXia Red (mentioned below).
Boy 1 (and the rest of us) drinks about 2 oz of NingXia Red daily. NingXia Red benefits include support for energy levels, normal cellular function, and whole-body and normal eye health. A daily shot of 2-4 ounces helps support overall wellness with powerful antioxidants.*
As for essential oils, I often use Brain Power (high in sesquiterpenes), GeneYus, and the Focus Roller blend mentioned above to promote focus and concentration during speech therapy or when we’re working on homeschool stuff at home. I also use Frankincense, Peace & Calming, and Valor before his speech therapy sessions to help any uneasiness he may have about going. Click here to learn more about essential oils.
Giving Lots of Time for Him to Respond
When we were just starting on this journey, it was about giving him a painfully long amount of time to respond to us (I’d usually do a 10-count in my head). Most of the time he just never responded at all. But obviously he had stuff happening in his brain because (as I mentioned above) now he’ll spout things off to us from months ago. It must be so exciting for him to finally share verbally what’s been in his mind for so long!
Nowadays, I just make sure to give a quick pause to let him respond. I’m trying to break the habit of answering for him. He outwardly searches for words (e.g., says “uh, uh, uh” and then finds the right word to say), so I want to give him time to work it out and communicate.
The Right TV Shows, Movies, and Apps
We really don’t limit Boy 1’s access to technology that much. He has his own tablet. We let him watch some TV each day. It’s not really something we’ve fretted over because it hasn’t become an issue for him or for us. If it interfered with him wanting to do other things, I’m sure we’d re-evaluate that stance. But, he’s an active little boy who loves to do art projects and read and sing and play sports and do all kinds of things.
That said, we figure that if he’s going to be watching something, it might as well be something helpful for developing his language and communication skills. Truth be told, a lot of today’s shows totally suck for this purpose. Fast-paced cartoons? Not so helpful for learning to talk. In fact, he went through a serious Curious George phase early on and we found that it actually was detrimental to his language skills (George just grunts and does “monkey talk” and Boy 1 started mimicking George’s way of speaking!). He watches Curious George now that he’s talking, but it’s something to consider if you’re still in the beginning of this process with your child.
Barney is awesome because it captures his imagination, but it also has real kids who dance and sing repetitive songs and learn letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. Blue’s Clues is great because Steve also does some signing during it. He talks slowly and names items around him and gets kids thinking and involved. Super Why! is great because it teaches letters, spelling, and reading. The Wiggles is a great show for listening to real people talk and has fun music and singing and dancing. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is just so calming. Every episode has new things to learn and it just sucks you in.
As for apps, he really liked the Starfall ABCs app early on. He loved learning about the letters and the sounds they make. He still uses that app, but we use ABCMouse.com more often now (as a part of our casual homeschooling plan this year).
The vocabulary cards that come in the Tot School printables over at 1+1+1=1 have been a great way to introduce Boy 1 to new words. I’d show him some of these before he had many words, and then I’d whip them out again when he had more words, and I’d always be surprised at how much he remembered. We still pull these out a few times a week and just use them as conversation starters.
Music just activates a different part of your brain than reading books or having a conversation. I’ve been singing to Boy 1 since he was born (and when he started talking more, he suddenly joined in with me in our normal songs!). I often have the radio (to the local Christian station) or Pandora (various Christian and toddler stations) on during the day. He’s most interested in shows that have a music element to them. We have lots of musical instruments for him to play with – like this set of band instruments, this piano (for the younger crowd), a ukulele, little drums, and more.
I think he’s more easily understood when he’s singing. I absolutely plan on cultivating a love for listening to and a talent for playing music in him as he grows.
Time Around Other Kids His Age
It’s rough being an only child (so far)! So we make sure he gets time around other kids his age each week – at swim lessons, at church, and with play dates. This helps him to see how other kids his age communicate. After these encounters, he often has new words and phrases to share with us.
Pushing Him a Little Bit
There’s a difference between exasperating your child as they work through developing their language skills, and giving them a little push in the right direction when you know they’re capable of doing something.
For example, when we knew Boy 1 was able to say “down”, we wouldn’t let him get down from his chair after meals until he said “down”. He’d fuss and cry and totally lose it. But we knew he could do it. And eventually he did (and he was so proud of himself!).
Nowadays, we know he can ask for things in full sentences (e.g., “More water please, Mommy”) and we don’t accept it when he’s lazy with his speech in this and other areas. We also push him to say new words and sentences all the time because we know he’s capable of at least trying to say them.
Boy 1 graduated from early intervention services at age three. We felt like he still needed some help, so the next step was to pursue additional free services through our local school district. After being evaluated very thoroughly by teachers and a speech language pathologist, Boy 1 was put on an IEP (Individualized Education Program). He goes to speech therapy with a wonderful teacher for an hour each week.
We’ll continue on this path until it appears that he doesn’t need it anymore or we lose access to the services because of choosing to homeschool (and in that case, we will find him some private help if it’s still needed). I’m not totally sure how this will play out going forward, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Repeating Words Back to Him
We’re past the point of letting lazy talking slide. We know he can at least try to say things properly (even if we need to stretch out words and have him repeat a syllable at a time). So when he says a word to us, we make sure to repeat it back to him and ask him to try saying it again. We don’t expect perfection at all. We just expect him to try.
If you’re reading that and thinking that it must be exhausting to be that intentional all day, you’re right. It is. But it’s worth it to make sure he’s always improving. Plus, when he tries again and says a word perfectly, you should see the proud look and smile on his face. I want him to know that he can do hard things.
Putting Things Slightly Out of His Reach So He Has to Ask for Them
We really milked this tactic when he was around two. And, oh boy, it made our independent little man mad to have to figure out a way (by signing or saying a word) to ask for things. But this also accelerated his speech a lot and quickly.
Time, Patience, and Prayer
This whole language thing just takes a little extra time for some children. Given the incredible amount of learning and brain growth that happens in the first few years of life, can you blame them if language (or something else) needs a little bit of extra time to master? Give your kids time to develop at whatever speed they develop at (but keep fostering their development and address any major concerns with healthcare providers you trust).
And be patient. I have felt the sting of people talking to my son, him responding, and then them saying, “I can’t understand him.” I know what it’s like to be struggling with this and see your friends’ children chatting away in complete sentences at barely two years old. Don’t get discouraged. Just be patient. Your child will soon have all the same milestones to celebrate.
Lastly, pray for your child who’s struggling in this department. The frustration of this is real for you, but it’s also very real for your child. Pray that God would continue to develop these skills in your child and that He’d shield them from hurtful comments and other things that could damage your child’s self-esteem during this time. Also, pray that God would give you patience, help you find the best support system as you tackle this, and give you the energy to be intentional when it comes to fostering these skills.
Do you have a late talker at home? How are you encouraging his or her language and communication skills?