By Cecily Morrison
I first wrote about Ronan’s struggle to speak (at least in any way understandable to the rest of us) when he was just over three in this blog. Ronan will be five in a few months and that journey continues.
Ronan now talks a lot, but we still struggle with understanding what he is saying. Unlike with a sighted child in which there is often some shared visual context, Ronan could be talking about almost anything. He might naming the toilet that is flushing in the neighbouring terraced house. He might be talking about the slide we went on during our holiday three months ago. He might be categorizing every piece of equipment in the playground. Or, he might be practicing his current favourite word over and over again.
We started speech therapy when Ronan turned four to help him produce a greater range of consonants. Speech therapy is a highly visual field. Children, for example, are usually given stimuli images (such as of a ball) and then taught to form the sound ‘b’. We’d heard that people had translated this to blind children using objects. But, Ronan does not have much interested in objects unless they make sound, so we did not think this would work.
We decided to relate sounds to tactile cues. Ronan is taught the sound through physical manipulation of the mouth and then he is reminded of it through a tactile cue. For example, for ‘f’ we press in the lower lip to get teeth on lips. This is then cued with strong, short downwards swipes on the arms while we saying the sound. ‘N’ is a bit different. That requires holding the bridge of the nose and bring the lips into a frown. We remind Ronan of the sound if it is missing in words by just holding the bridge of his nose.
We’ve found that cueing has worked well to remind Ronan to use a sound that he finds difficult to say. While the first few sounds took a long time to learn, they are coming faster as he gets more sounds and can use one sound as a substitute for another, such as ‘f’ in the place of ‘s’.