I recently worked with a couple of non-verbal autistic boys who were having wonderful sessions. The very next day I ran across an article online by Margaret A Fish, MS,CCC-SLP. The article was entitled Development In Children With Severe Childhood Apraxia Of Speech – www.pediastaff.com. Later that day, a mother of a Downs Syndrome son (who had speech but had lost it) asked the question many parents ask, “Is it too late, will he ever speak again?” I knew it was possible by a couple of things she told me. I thought I would share some things I hear that let me know not only is speech possible in children with neurological impairment, but lets me know where the child is developmentally with speech.
* One of the things the mother told me was, when her son is alone , one on one, and comfortable, he can sing words. If a child can sing words, he or she is already speaking in melody. Speech ability already exists and the person is not far from speaking.
* If purposeful humming is demonstrated, that means the child has enough control to not only comprehend what they hear, but also are able to replicate it vocally.
* Children that have occasional “pop out words,” once again, understand and apparently do have some speech. They need to learn how to get control of that speech.
* Children that babble are on their way to sound formation and are open to making sound and are motivated. They are “playing” with sound. (for more on learning and play :http://backmountainmusictherapy.com/2012/05/the-balance-between-structure-and-play-and-its-long-lasting-results/ ) ( http://backmountainmusictherapy.com/2011/11/music-therapy-and-autism-from-developmental-psychologistdr-stanley-greensan-co-authors-perspective/)
* Children who react with sound to an unpleasant or pleasant situation should have that ability encouraged and nurtured. That is an opening to increase sound, to begin to use sound for expression.
* Even silent children with neurological difficulties may still speak, probably not on the same time line as their peers though. In these cases, speech goals should look like pre-verbal goals. There are many different reasons for the lack of speech, however, if your child is beyond the age of 2 and still not speaking, take care to talk to them and respond to them verbally, always, as if they do (http://backmountainmusictherapy.com/2012/04/recognizing-development-and-its-significance-in-each-individual/). Others response to the child may help or hinder the process.If your child is not talking, many others will assume your child does not understand also, so it is very important that you keep that expectation alive. Communication begins way before word formation. Sing a lot to your child. This is more predictable and understandable to the brain than just words. Music has more structure. Respond to sound as if it has meaning. Children may not be demonstrating understanding, but if they are understanding and just yet can not let you know, imagine how demeaning it must feel when people treat you otherwise.
The two boys whom I mentioned earlier are beginning to make sound and are demonstrating “pop out words”. They are also beginning to find ways to joke and let me know they like something. One of the boys, whom I haven’t seen much or regularly, due to health and doctors appointments, has always been good at letting the world know he was unhappy through limitless screaming, self abuse and pushing away. Today, as we ended the session, I played “Good bye” on his feet with my hand drum. He played it back afterward with his feet. We finished the song and I thought we were done. He took my hand with the drum in it, and tapped it two times (I’m assuming “Good bye”) and smiled ar me as he did so.