Early speech intervention has been a crucial part of his development over the years and especially in the beginning stages for his speech development.
I remember thinking that the suggestion for him to begin speech therapy as soon as he started babbling seemed a wee bit aggressive. However, after speaking with his team therapist about my concerns and the reasons why starting speech therapy so early on were suggested, we decided to give it a try. Eventually, we were able to see for ourselves the difference it made.
Due to our son’s cleft palate and his inability to suck properly, his intraoral muscles were underdeveloped. He started speech therapy at 17 mos. of age. I would sit in the observation room watching the therapist and the techniques she was using with him. As a toddler he was pretty busy moving about the room, checking out all of the new toys, and seemed to drift from one activity to another pretty quickly. His therapist figured out what would engage him and became a true friend to him. He still mistakenly refers to his current therapist as “Becca” from time to time. 🙂
I recommend developing a good relationship with your team members because being involved in your child’s care is crucial to carrying over the techniques at home and incorporating their methods into your daily routine, thus having consistency and seeing overall improvement.
One technique our therapist shared with us was to simply practice blowing bubbles at home. As simple as that sounds for you and me, I promise you it is not so simple for your cleft affected child. It was a frustrating experience for both of us, but we kept at it and the moment your child is finally able to blow bubbles is one you most assuredly will not forget.
We had several small bottles of bubbles at home and periodically throughout our day we would venture outside and try to play with them. Our son was pretty frustrated because he couldn’t get any bubbles to form and I got to see first hand that he was in fact blowing through his nose and nothing was happening for him on the bubble front. When he would let me I would gently pinch his nostrils and have him try, which began resulting in some bubbles forming. This was a great confidence booster and got him to want to keep trying. I would catch him pinching his own nose and trying to blow bubbles. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it would not. I purchased one of those swim nose clips at Walgreens and decided to see if that could help him at home. He was resistant at first but after a bit he would let me put it on and when he saw that he could actually blow bubbles better with it he began pointing to it for me to put on him when we would practice “bubbles” in the backyard.
Blowing bubbles and pinching his nose helped him to distinguish between blowing through his nostrils and redirecting the airflow through his mouth. It took awhile but eventually he did catch on. We would then try bubbles without the clip or pinching of his nostrils and he seemed to get stronger and better the more often we did the bubble game. It was rewarding for both of us to work on this at home and go back to therapy with a marked improvement to share with his therapist.
Another fun way to work on his air flow and to strengthen his intraoral muscles was to play a game where we would take cotton balls and put them on the dining room table or any flat surface and use straws to blow the cotton balls around. We would set the cotton balls at one end of the table and both of us would blow through the straw trying to move our cotton balls to the other end of the table first. Again, this was frustrating and a lot of air was escaping through his nose and not the end of the straw but making sure that he kept at it was key. He would pinch his nostrils and see the difference in getting those cotton balls moving and get so excited! This is definitely a game you want to play interactively with your child and I recommend you do not leave them alone with cotton balls and straws. Toddlers like to put everything in their mouths, nose, ears, etc. so playing this with them is important. Do not leave them unsupervised.
I especially liked this suggestion from our therapist and that was to make freezer pops at home and let our son have them throughout the day. As simple as this sounds, and it is simple for a typical child not dealing with a cleft palate, it is another activity that can help them to strengthen their intraoral muscles. For you or I this task doesn’t seem all that involved but consider your cleft affected child. Having to use their tongue to really get at that freezer pop is work and the more work the stronger and better they get at it.
I didn’t want to buy sugary pops for him so I would take fruit, fruit juice and unflavored Greek yogurt and make my own freezer pops for him. If I didn’t have any of these on hand I would simply take orange juice and fill the molds, which he liked just as well. It doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. These were fun treats and unbeknownst to him an activity we were incorporating into his therapy.
These are just some of the techniques we used to crossover therapy at home and I’m sure your therapist will have some more fun, creative and interactive ideas tailored to your child’s needs and interests that will work for you and your family.
If you are considering whether or not to begin therapy at an early age, I recommend it. It helped our son tremendously. I believe that taking what we learned during therapy and working at home with him was an invaluable learning tool for all of us.