Written by Amanda Franklin
This past week I interviewed the mother of a child who had a speech delay in the hope of gaining insight into a family’s experience with the early intervention process and the use of assistive technology. Needless to say, it was fascinating to hear their experience as I had known the child growing up and saw his progress, but, until this point, I did not know what they had to do to get their child to where he is today.
To begin the story of their experience, I asked what the process was like for them. First, they went to the pediatrician to rule out any physical reasons for her son’s lack of speech. Her son was 2 1/2 years old at the time and it was determined after evaluation that two days a week, her son would receive speech therapy and occupational therapy until he turned 3 years old and started preschool. When they started early intervention in the home, they used some sign language, flash cards, and certain games based on his needs. The use of signing and the games were the most used as signing was used when he needed to communicate something he couldn’t verbalize, while the games gave him practice in a way that got him interested and invested.
I asked what the easiest and hardest part of the process was, and she said that the easiest part may have also been one of the hardest parts. For the evaluation, the interdisciplinary team did all the work and they saw what he was like without mom around. The hardest part in that was being sent out of the room. She also said that one of the hardest things she had to do was explain over and over to others why her child wasn’t at the same level as his peers. It was also very hard to deal with the idea that there is “something wrong with my kid.” Fortunately, the team was able to let her know that her child could understand and process everything that was being spoken or shown to him, he just couldn’t say what he wanted to say.
They started basic communication with early intervention in the home, but when it came time for her child to start preschool, the preschool said they didn’t want him to sign. The preschool had discouraged the signing, but she pushed for them to continue the use of signing in order to maintain consistency in the ability to communicate. There was no evidence to support their claim that the signing would deter him from speaking. She said, “As soon as he could say [the word], he replaced the sign with the word.” With signing, he was able to communicate with his siblings and it avoided a lot of confusion. So, they continued the use of signing in preschool until he no longer needed it.
She also said that it was a bit of a difficult transition going from weekly reports of how her son was doing and the goals/future expectations they were working on, to very basic updates from the preschool. The preschool interactions were harder because they didn’t share as much about what they were learning and how he was growing day to day as opposed to early intervention when it was like a conference after every session.
Overall, early intervention seemed to be a positive experience for her and her family, and the outcomes for her child were beyond what they had hoped. By the time he was getting ready to go into kindergarten, he was already ahead of his peers. One thing that was mentioned while we were talking is that while her family felt that they took something away from their experience, her friend’s experience with intervention was different from theirs. They didn’t use signing with their child and so the process was more frustrating and felt “lacking,” as they didn’t feel that they took anything away from the experience.
In my personal experience with her son, when he was little, there was a lot of frustration when somebody couldn’t understand what he wanted, but signing gave a bridge that allowed us to understand what he couldn’t verbalize. Once he was able to verbalize a word, he completely dropped the use of the sign. These days, as a child in elementary school, he speaks fluently and he doesn’t remember the signs he once relied on to communicate. The only sign he and his family still use is the sign for “no,” which they apparently use subconsciously when they speak to each other.
All-in-all, the interview gave me insight into their experience in early intervention and their interaction with the use of augmentative and assistive technology. Signing seemed to be the most helpful for them among the other techniques and technology they were using. Just having the support from the individual family service plan team and the individual education plan team allowed them to make the necessary strides to get their child up to his peers by the time he entered kindergarten. While this may not be everybody’s experience with early intervention, it was definitely fascinating to learn about their experience.