by Megan Allison
Do you get excited when your child sounds out words and reads a favorite children’s book back to you? What about when he or she starts rhyming words out of the blue? Sings a nursery song? Counts to 20 all on her own? When he says “Mama” for the first time? Wonder, joy, and overflowing love is how I have felt.
How do you feel when your child does not say a word? One year passes and sounds are not turning into words. Second year: sounds, but very few words. Lost words. Concern, fear, dread, frustration. This is where I found myself almost nine years ago with my second beautiful baby boy. A happy, smiling all the time, quiet toddler. A boy without words.
Parents are eager for their children to learn. Reading great stories together bonds a family. Being able to talk and share with one another seals and deepens our relationships. When learning is cumbersome and difficult, don’t we as parents want to drill down to the problem and solve it? We quickly search for answers, wanting to waste no time getting to a solution. We search the Internet, talk to our spouse, consult friends, ask a teacher, express our concern to the pediatrician, and seek out other professionals’ opinions. When we really think there’s an issue, we want to find a diagnosis and get right to executing a plan to help our children on their educational journey. Here are six tips that I’d give myself if we were just starting out:
Take an expert’s opinion with a grain of salt
Experts are human, too. We’ve had the same pediatrician for almost fifteen years, but when he told me that my middle son was just being lazy about talking, it didn’t make sense to me. Don’t get me wrong, experts can help us rule out diagnoses and narrow our focus. By partnering with specialists, we learned from an audiologist that our son didn’t have anything wrong with his ears and another professional determined our son has childhood apraxia of speech. We’ve tried sign language, fish oil, and crossing the midline activities. Some of these have helped, and with others I’m still debating the benefits.
I found it helpful to consult with specialized doctors, but ultimately my husband and I decided what road we would travel. I enjoyed researching about speech apraxia and many of the suggested activities because I believed I needed to educate myself in order to assist my son. I could do many of the therapy suggestions at home at no cost. Additionally, having researched apraxia, I could dialogue better with the professionals we were seeing on a regular basis. I was equipped when the time came that we decided to go ahead with speech therapy, but not pursue vision therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy.
Our children are keenly aware that they are having difficulty. I’ve learned and I’m still trying to do better that our children are watching us and need to see us giving them grace. Even when we’ve explained the information for what seems like the hundredth time, grin and bear it, and explain it again. Have patience with yourself, too. You are much stronger and able to do more than you’ve ever thought yourself capable.
After hours upon hours of speech practice, I know more now than I thought possible about the development of speech, how to teach a person to talk, good advice and bad advice for parents of children with speech difficulty, and I can lip read now, too. That may seem like small potatoes, but to this gal who is more inclined toward math and science and has difficulty remembering what a demonstrative pronoun is, this is a big accomplishment.
There is no one-size-fits-all or easy solution
When a child learns differently, it can take considerable amounts of trial and error before finding what works best for your child. Research takes time, and a method that works for one family may not work for another. One of the gifts of homeschooling is that you spend the majority of the day with your child, so you know your son or daughter intimately.
One recommendation I received was to read every day to my son. I just shake my head now thinking back on that advice, because for my son the solution had nothing to do with reading to him more. The language connections between the brain, tongue, palate, and ears weren’t happening for him, and he wasn’t able to produce the sounds in order to speak no matter how many times he heard my words. He needed to be taught how to speak.
Teaching our children is good work. Any work worth doing is going to take grit, determination, and sacrifice. I try to remember it’s like growing a garden. You don’t plant today and harvest tomorrow. It’s going to take time with days of watering, weeding, fertilizing, more weeding, removing bad bugs, and finally harvesting. The fruit is a result of the hard work put in. I’m a few years in now with teaching, and the blessings and rewards have made all the work worth it.
Don’t give up too quickly on a method
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes a memory, so keep repeating grammar rules and math facts over and over again. Each time you practice, the brain is making those synapses fire, and it’s laying down that pathway for memorization to happen. I encourage you to keep plugging along with the basics. Keep it fun, make it a game, use it with something your child is interested in, or let your child be the teacher.
One of the best gifts of homeschooling is that time is on your side. You’re able to tailor your child’s education, and there’s plenty of time for repetition and review. I’m not convinced that there’s one program that will quickly solve learning difficulties. You’ll have to decide if it’s time to persevere or, if you’ve given a program a lengthy, thorough trial, then it may be time to tweak it or look for something new.
The unknown can be scary. Panic can set in if we let ourselves entertain all the what-if questions that reach our minds. Fear is a sales tactic, and I saw it used often when we were navigating our options. But what happens when you embrace the child that you have and the situation that you’re in? Fear can immobilize, or it can motivate you to move to research, to advocate, to ask lots of questions, and to not stop at anything to help your child.
Look back over the tips. Decide where you are in your journey and identify your next step. Are you just beginning and need to research? Are you knee deep in a method that you should keep persisting in, but with some adjustments? Today, decide to look fear in the face and use it to propel forward: use it as a call to action.
Find a friend
Look outside your immediate family for who can support you. It’s heartbreaking to see your child struggling, and there is a time for grieving over your child’s difficulties. It is often a lonely walk, especially when your child looks normal from the outside, and few people truly understand what you are going through. Even among your family, it can be hard to share one another’s burden.
I found it helpful to get connected to a homeschool support group to make a friend. It may be as simple as reaching out to others in similar situations through Facebook or meeting regularly with someone who will listen to you. There are many in the homeschool community eager to offer support. A kind friend can encourage and refresh you, so you can return home with new strength to meet the challenges with determination and grace.
Homeschooling can be a great experience in teaching special learners.
Our son turned 11 in July. He enjoys Legos, model airplanes, and erector sets. He is still a quiet, sweet child, but has occasional moments when he talks a mile a minute. He graduated speech therapy a few years ago. He seems to struggle with memorizing for the long term, but we call him our walking thesaurus because he can impressively change out words he’s supposed to memorize for a similar word. He understands the big picture. We’re in a season of repetition and review.
Homeschooling has been a great experience for us as we explore the things he likes and spend extra time as needed on memory work. There are no monthly educational assessments, and I love that he has plenty of time to play, take field trips, build all kinds of things, be a boy, and work at his own pace. Surprisingly, this work I am doing is changing me, molding me into a stronger, more disciplined, and more patient, compassionate person. My hope is that you find encouragement in my story and the strength to press on another day taking it one day at a time, knowing each step is a step forward.
Megan Allison lives in Glendale. She enjoys raising her three boys to love and serve the Lord. Megan actively serves on the board of her local support group where she encourages families in their homeschool journeys. She is passionate about equipping homeschoolers with the tools for success in their homes and communities. She desires to live out Titus 2:3-5. In her spare time, Megan likes to jog, spend time in nature, and date her husband Tim.