If You Can’t Talk Do You Understand? If You Don’t Talk….

Creative iPad time


Is speaking words by using your mouth a true measure of our  level of understanding?  If we have challenges doing oral reading does it mean we cannot read?  If we only answer questions with yes or no responses or with three word sentences does it mean we are not capable of more?  If it takes us longer to answer a question or give a comment does it mean we have cognitive challenges?  During our day do we only communicate by speaking?  Do we just stand and present a neutral body position and facial expression?  Do we keep our hands completely still?

As a good friend of mine reminded me last week when she was sharing her son’s success at school that “any difference that involves speech issues leads to unfair assumptions about abilities.”

Johnny’s Daddy and I had all of these concerns in our hearts and in our minds when we went to our son’s school for the “Parent/Teacher Curriculum Night.”  Its an opportunity for parents to hear a presentation from their child’s teacher about the expectations for the school year and hear about the teacher’s own way of approaching teaching.   In the days leading up to this night, we had asked for feedback from Johnny’s teachers on how he is doing speaking at school with his peers and with teachers and staff.  Johnny has motor speech challenges (Apraxia of Speech) and we are trying to advocate strongly for a specialized SLP to come into the school and work with him so that he can work on speaking more clearly as well as be able to master his ability to read better by producing sounds better.  The school board gave him two blocks of this specialized therapy but as per ministry guidelines closes the file for one year.  I have no idea why because he needs the extra help but I presume funding is the reason.  So as we try to access speech therapy elsewhere, we advocate for his file to be re-opened before the end of 2014 when his case is scheduled to be re-addressed.  The school board SLP who specializes in Autism has helped us by sending in a referral asking for Johnny to be seen earlier but I have gotten a message from the agency re-stating the service guidelines and there would have to be new concerns for him to be seen earlier.  So I decided to pose some questions to staff at Johnny’s school and check in with them what their concerns were.  Here are the questions I asked them:

1)  Is he understood at school by his peers and his teachers?

2)  Does he need to repeat himself a lot?

3)  Does his speech sound choppy?

4)  How is his pitch or volume of speech at school?

5)  Is he asked to speak up more often?

6)  Is he able to maintain speech sound accuracy when he says longer words or sentences?

7)  When Johnny talks at school to the other children do they understand him most of the time or sometimes?

Here is the compilation of what four different staff members wrote me about how Johnny speaks at school:

Staff 1:

Is he understood at school by his peers and his teachers? He will speak when prompted and usually 1 word utterances, which are clear
Does he need to repeat himself a lot? Not really
Does his speech sound choppy? During multi-word utterances it becomse more choppy, partly due to his elevated emotion (e.g. excited)
How is his pitch or volume of speech at school? It tends to be low volume, that can be heard in his small classroom with limited ambient noise, but more difficult in his intergrated class.
Is he asked to speak up more often?  See comment above re: volume
Is he able to maintain speech sound accuracy when he says longer words or sentences? He is able to be accurate with his speech sounds at the 1 word level, it breaks down during multi-word utterances.
How does he sound when he does his oral reading exercises at school?  With prompting, i.e. teeth together, for the /s/ sound he is able to do it, it is not there spontaneously yet.He is not volunteering to answer questions or to read.

Staff 2:

When Johnny talks at school to the other children do they understand him most of the time or sometimes?  Sometimes they understand him.  Sometimes we have to get him to repeat himself.

 Staff 3:
I am responding to your concerns re: Johnny’s speech. Johnny spends part of his day in our grade 2 class. He will generally produce limited language when prompted. He is very soft spoken so he needs to often repeat his response. If a question is answered for him he will sometimes repeat the answer which can sound choppy.  Johnny is encouraged to speak up to be heard. He rarely uses more than 3-4 words in a sentence and does not tend to initiate.
Staff 4:
We just started the Bridge Reading program this week.  Thus far Johnny has pronounced every word taught so far with good clarity.  I was especially impressed with the f sounding words like fruit and find.  I can speak more about the reading program at curriculum night, but suffice it to say that it works on picture-word association, not the phonological approach.
I would like to say I’m surprised but I am not.  As his speech pathologist that we see outside of school says “its like there are two different Johnny’s….he presents himself one way to people he is comfortable with and another way for people he has not found a bond with.”  The last staff member who gave me a comment taught him last year and is now teaching a reading program in the school so I was not surprised that Johnny took speaking risks with him.  When I spoke with this teacher during curriculum night he told me, “Johnny is so shy but wow he can talk a lot when he is out of school as opposed to being in school.  Its like he becomes a different person and clams up.”  In the meantime, the SLP who works with Johnny outside of the school and who has an incredible bond of trust with him has referred us to a parent training program to help Johnny learn social communication beginning at home.  Why?  Well its hard to do targeted sound speech therapy when the little guy in questions talks so much and wants to comment on all his ideas and what he did during the summer.   Its nice to know that all the other speech therapy intervention that was aimed at increasing his level of commenting worked.  On the other hand this SLP is spending a lot of time re-directing him back to the work but he is so excited that he can talk now and just wants to share with someone he likes.
I am glad that Johnny’s Daddy and I have the above challenges to work out because its all forward progress.  Johnny is communicating and interacting independently from his parents and participating in the world around him.   Its a good start.  I spent yesterday looking at my youtube channel where I put clips of Johnny speaking so I can share with professionals working with Johnny how he is doing now and how he was doing 2 or even 4 years ago so that staff understand that speaking is very new to him and being understood is even newer.  Its a wonderful reminder to me of how far he has come and how hard he has worked.  On thing stood out as I watched is that even when he was nonverbal, he was always communicating.  He had strong eye contact, looked at me continuously and tried so hard to get his point across using whatever means he could.  Over the next few weeks I am going to share what we are doing to face these new challenges and how we plan to help Johnny have more confidence to be a risk taker and try to speak more at school.  In the mean time I am going to share what my friend’s son shared about being Autistic and having speech challenges.

 “For those who think I can’t, stand back and watch me do it”.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa says:

    This brought happy tears to my eyes….EVERYONE stand back because here comes “Johnny”!!!! ( :


    1. Cyn says:

      I’m glad it was happy tears my friend:) I love it when we run into teachers that taught “Johnny” when he was 3 and 4 and how absolutely happy and somewhat surprised at how far he has come in a short time. He is so determined 🙂


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