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3 Tips for When Speech Doesn’t Come

Nearly 4 years ago, as I was writing my first book, I told the story of Ethan, who hadn’t responded to all attempts to support his speech development at the time. Ethan had become a very proficient AAC user, initiating and joining in conversation with his iPad’s communication app at every opportunity! Well, I am so pleased to share that now, 4 years on, Ethan is very much a verbal communicator.

Here are 3 things that I noticed about Ethan, and I’m going to share them with you as tips that might help:

Tip 1 – Embrace the Alternatives

When the goal is verbal communication it can feel disappointment and even like failure when you find yourself exploring alternative means of communication such as signing, symbols and technology. However, if this is presented as a general ‘total communication’ approach for all children in a class or setting, alternative communication becomes easier to embrace. Access to different methods allowed Ethan to explore the options and adults could pick up on his preferences, encouraging him to use the ones that helped him the most to get his messages across. I have honestly never seen such a keen AAC user as Ethan, and it certainly didn’t seem to phase other people he met. 

Tip 2 –  Focus on the Message not the Method

Another thing that Ethan showed us is that when it comes to communication it’s the message that’s important, not the method someone uses to send that message. Whether it’s a sign, a symbol or a facial expression, it’s surprising how much we can pick up and understand. After all, only 7% of communication is verbal – perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising after all. Ethan was definitely a child who embraced all forms of communication, and he would be very creative in how he used clues in the environment to support his own body language, facial expressions and gesture. He was also good at persevering so that his message got sent. 

Tip 3 – Never Give up Hope

While Ethan was showing us all how to embrace alternative communication methods and to look past the fact that he was not yet speaking, it didn’t mean we had to give up the goal of speech. Whether it was the focus on communication as a whole, or maturity, or simply ‘the right time’, a couple of years down the line Ethan’s vocalisations began to evolve. We embraced this and began to revisit the oral motor and speech work, and this time, he responded. He found his voice and now nothing can stop him from using it.

Following these 3 tips helped Ethan to maintain his goal of speaking while still developing vital communication skills with others. His story is told to inspire others that speech can come at any age, and to never give up hope. 

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