Holiday movies, songs and clichés often present a picture perfect setting with angelic faces all aglow and doting parents lavishing a mountain of gifts and goodies for all. Let’s get real! I admit that as a young mother and wife, I tried so hard to provide that Hallmark day for my family. Was I successful? Well, let’s see…if we don’t count the times that the Christmas tree fell over smashing breakable ornaments and my screaming, “DON’T come in here! You’ll cut your feet! GET OUT!” Or placing the crockpot full of hot red cabbage not-so-gracefully on the white table cover and spilling it all over the table settings…or the times when children and their parents acted out of sorts. You get the picture.
We are NOT perfect people. Get over this fantasy. Provide what is possible—a good sense of humor, instant forgiveness, a sense that everyone is welcome and the day is for enjoyment—no need for a perfect performance. Expect a certain amount of spills, chaos and noise.
One way to avoid unkind or angry words is learning to communicate better. This happens through a change in the way we think and our expectations of others. While we may see ourselves as verbally astute, many people find it difficult to hold a conversation with others. This is especially true for children and adults who may experience the following communication challenges. Recognize that everyone’s brain does not work and process life exactly the same way. Embrace the differences instead of fighting them.
(All definitions and explanations below have been taken from and are credited to: www.medlineplus.gov which offers a compilation of medical research.)
Voice is the sound that’s produced when air from the lungs pushes through the voice box in the throat (also called the larnyx), making the vocal folds within vibrate. From there, the sound generated travels up through the spaces of the throat, nose, and mouth, and emerges as our “voice.” Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, intellectual disabilities, drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, and vocal abuse or misuse. Frequently, however, the cause is unknown. Of the 6.1 million children with disabilities who received special education under IDEA in public schools in the 2005-2006 school year, more than 1.1 million were served under the category of speech or language impairment.
Apraxia (called “dyspraxia” if mild) is a neurological disorder characterized by loss of the ability to carry out skilled movements. It results from dysfunction of the cerebral hemispheres of the brain, especially the parietal lobe, and can arise from many diseases or damage to the brain. Verbal apraxia causes difficulty coordinating mouth and speech movements.
Examples: Robbie. He’s a cutie pie in the first grade and has recently been diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech—or CAS. CAS is a speech disorder marked by choppy speech. Robbie also talks in a monotone, making odd pauses as he tries to form words. The difficulty lies in the brain and how it communicates to the muscles involved in producing speech. The muscles need to move in precise ways for speech to be intelligible.
Pearl, in third grade, reads one on one with her therapist because she has a speech disorder called dysarthria. It causes Pearl’s speech to be slurred, very soft, breathy, and slow. Here, the cause is weak muscles of the tongue, lips, palate, and jaw.
4th grader Mario is a stutterer. He’s learning how to slow down his speech and control his breathing as he talks.
And I am adding one more. Charlene is 10 in the 5th grade. She has been diagnosed on the Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life. It affects how a person acts and interacts with others, communicates, and learns. Charlene has problems talking with her therapist, won’t look her in the eye and frequently repeats the same sentence over and over again. She often seems to be in her “own world.”
Asperger syndrome (a form of autism) is a developmental disorder with neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior. The most distinguishing symptom of AS is a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other. Children with AS want to know everything about their topic of interest and their conversations with others will be about little else. Their expertise, high level of vocabulary, and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors. Other characteristics of AS include repetitive routines or rituals; peculiarities in speech and language; socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers; problems with non-verbal communication; and clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements.
Children with AS are isolated because of their poor social skills and narrow interests. They may approach other people, but make normal conversation impossible by inappropriate or eccentric behavior, or by wanting only to talk about their singular interest. Children with AS usually have a history of developmental delays in motor skills such as pedaling a bike, catching a ball, or climbing outdoor play equipment. They are often awkward and poorly coordinated with a walk that can appear either stilted or bouncy.
In short, not being able to talk or finding it difficult to communicate appropriately is not fun at all. What to do. When I began working with special needs children, I was most uncomfortable with non-verbal disorders. I did not understand that though these children could not put a voice to their thoughts, they could still communicate. Often a child has hand, arm and facial movements that mean yes, no or stop. First—parents, educate others on your child’s method of communication. Second—remember that children want to be treated the same. They don’t want to be isolated by their differences, talked about rather than talked to, criticized, ignored or pitied.
If a child is obviously intimidated by your presence, back off a little and give him time to get used to you. Over assertive adults may generate apprehension which is the opposite of their intention. Take a minute, put yourself in the other person’s place; try to imagine the way they are thinking. Value their thought process as much as you do your own. It isn’t wrong—it’s just unknown to you. Remember to use your gift of voice and language to encourage, teach, bring joy and add to the celebration of life!