A few weeks ago, I had my end-of-year conference with S's preschool teacher. In it, I asked her about S's speech. Like lots of kids her age, she has trouble with L and R, but she also has difficulty with what I've since learned are called "s-clusters". That is, if there is an S followed by one or more consonants, she drops the consonant(s). For instance, "snake" sounds like "sake", "spider" sounds like "cider" and my own personal favorite, "squirrel" sounds like "surl". Her teacher recommended that I talk with a speech therapist that she knows (whose kids also went to our preschool). So, earlier this week S and I went for an evaluation with "Teacher Judy".
The main objective of the evaluation was for Judy to listen to S's speech and determine if she would be receptive to speech therapy. I was a little concerned that S would clam up and be too shy to say much. But as a professional, surely Judy has encountered plenty of kids like this. She was great, and knew exactly which tactics to take to draw S out. She started out talking about the preschool, and moved from topic to topic until she found one that S was enthusiastic about (pets). And then she started a conversation with her. I just sat back and watched, not chiming in at all -- very hard for me to do! Next she pulled out a book and showed S pictures and asked her to name them. Each picture represented a word with a different sound. In this way, Judy was able to hear all the sounds she wanted S to make. S just thought it was a fun game and was excited to show off all she knew.
Having seen (or I guess heard) for herself S's problem with s-clusters, she started doing some exercises to get S to pronounce them properly. Her approach is clever: she uses something that appeals to each kid and incorporates it into the therapy. For instance, she saw that S really liked art. So, she used some pens and stickers each time she wanted S to try out a word. What was really impressive was her ability to perceive when S was starting to get sensitive about the exercise; she would then back off, redirect, and try again in a minute or two. I really appreciated that. I could see that S was getting self-conscious and was afraid she would clam up and it would be over; but, Judy saw it too and knew how to handle it. After the session, Judy said that she thought S was very receptive to therapy and she would probably conquer her issues quickly. So we're going to start seeing her for 30 minutes twice a week.
I am glad we're doing this -- which is funny because I started out reticent to have her evaluated at all. For almost a year, we have be wondering about her speech. It's not as if she is unintelligible to other people; she can definitely be understood. We just noticed that other kids didn't seem to have the difficulties that she did with the s-clusters. Our pediatrician and preschool teacher at the time told us that most kids work this out on their own by about 5 or 6 years old, and that we didn't yet need to worry about speech therapy. And that was fine with me. I was content to see if she figured it out on her own. However by the end of this school year, I began to think that maybe we should just have her evaluated. She may very well learn how to say these things properly on her own, but if we can help her do that sooner, why wouldn't we? In addition, I was starting to see the beginnings of the exclusionary social dynamic at preschool. I didn't want her speech to be a source of ridicule or stigma when she gets to kindergarten next year. This way she'll have an entire year to work on it.
So, we'll start therapy next week. My little girl will learn how to say things like "spoon" instead of "shoomy" and "smile" instead of "sile" -- and she'll be that much closer to growing up. Just add it to the list of things I'll miss as she moves out of her baby years into little girlhood.