Using Sensory Input to Help With Speech Therapy
“Shouldn’t he be talking by now?” We were at my son’s two-year pediatrician appointment, and I finally had enough courage to voice what I’d been lying awake at night thinking: my son wasn’t talking the way his peers were.
“Well, what has he said?” she asked.
“Just this week, he said ‘truck fell down,’ but that was the only time he’s put together that many words. Normally, he says ‘ah’ for ‘water,’ and…”
“Three words together is good for a two-year-old,” the doctor replied.
And so we waited.
Six months later, again at the doctor’s office, I asked about his lack of language, and we got a referral to Early Intervention services.
We had an evaluation, hearing tests, and scheduled visits with local special needs preschool teachers. During this time, we received a referral for a speech therapist to come to our home.
I was nervous and relieved the morning of her visit. I spent more time than usual tucking toys into bins and studying my little boy. I wanted to see him the way she might.
I thought about one of the evaluators who’d said “I’ll tell you right now, it’s not just a speech delay.”
By then, I’d studied a bunch of books about autism, speech delays, and sensory processing issues, and still felt confused about what my son “should be” doing. The one thing I knew for sure was that he should be talking more.
His speech therapist came, and spent a few minutes asking me about my little boy. I was eager to get started and was confused when her first activity with him was to have him lie down on the floor.
“How’s this going to help with his speech?” I said.
“Oh, we have to get him ready to be receptive to it,” she said.
“He needs sensory input first.”
I was annoyed. “We’re doing this whole thing so he’ll interact,” I thought, while watching her roll a spiky ball we’d recently gotten over his back.
I couldn’t believe that her rolling a ball over his back would help with speech therapy, and as soon as she left, I called my husband to let him know our new speech therapist was probably crazy. Definitely ineffective.
She continued each therapy session with heavy sensory input and began having my son emulate sounds.
“O,” she said. “Just say “O, for open” as she opened the door.
You know what? It worked. Providing him with heavy sensory input before each therapy session meant that we began to see gains in his willingness to form sounds! To keep it interesting, we introduced a crash mat to his routine, which he continues to enjoy jumping on, almost five years later.
Using sensory input to help with speech therapy was a win for my little boy.
My son is now seven, and while he still has some pronunciation issues, he speaks, and the word for “water” is “water,” rather than “ah.”
He’s doing really well, and when parents of two and three-year-olds reach out, asking how we were able to go from having a nonverbal son to having a second grader who plays sports and invites friends over, I tell them how it all started with a speech therapist who had him lie on the floor and roll a spiky ball over his back while I rolled my eyes at them both.
Parents of late talkers and kids with autism and/or sensory issues – did you find that similar sensory stimulation helped your children gain speech? Do you have other tips and tricks for encouraging nonverbal kids to speak? I’d love to know what worked for you!