Help Them Find Their Words. Even The Gibberish Ones.

Mlunch. Cheweez. Amana. Hosible. Uncle Donald’s. Flop Shoes. Bolo Daddy.

I have a running record of seemingly meaningless words like these on scraps of paper, tucked into baby books. Yet I knew exactly what each one meant when they would fall from the lips of my daughter or son. The ones I listed above can be translated into: lunch, Cheerios, banana, hospital, McDonald’s, flip-flops, and peanut butter, respectively. I don’t  ever want to forget the ways in which my children claimed the English language all for their own as they were learning to talk and communicate.

It is easy for parents to be completely enamored with the words and phrases children use when they are very little, and even more in love with the ways in which they say them. Those squeaky little voices. How they substitute one sound for another. The random accents infused into words that seem to be natural only to them. Even at five-years-old, my son still has a sing-song quality to his voice that turns my heart to mush, even when he’s saying things like “boogers” and “fart.” And when my daughter was that age? She had a lisp that was so adorable it probably could have ignited world peace had enough people heard it:

But what is cute isn’t always right. One day, my sister, who is a speech pathologist, expressed a mild concern over my daughter’s speech. Not only did she have a slight lisp, but she also struggled with her “s” and “th” blends. For instance, instead of saying “spider,” she would say “sider,” and instead of saying “things,” she would say “fings.” And she was at an age where most kids have naturally begun gaining the appropriate pronunciation of those sounds. She suggested I look into to getting her some speech therapy.

The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic

Enter The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders. The same week my daughter began Kindergarten, she also began working with Sr. Margaret Guzzardo, M.S. CCC-SLP, who has the kindest heart and easiest smile…even by nun standards. For almost a year, we would head to the clinic after school twice a week and practice speech exercises at home every night before bed. In that time, Sr. Margaret was able to help my daughter retrain her lips, tongue, and teeth to make the sounds the way they were meant to be said. While I secretly missed those traces of “baby” in her speech, I was proud of the hard work my daughter put into it. And I was eased by the fact that she no longer had a speech impediment that could cause her to be the target of teasing as she got older.

My daughter’s problems with speech were very mild compared to what some children struggle with. There are children who don’t even HAVE the words to mispronounce. There are children who spend every day of their lives struggling to communicate because they live in silence or can only produce indistinguishable sounds for one reason or another. There are parents who are aching to have a list of funny little words scribbled into their baby books.

Again, enter The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic. I am immensely grateful to Sr. Margaret and the entire staff at the clinic (one of whom happens to be my very talented sister) for giving my daughter the crystal clear speech and language skills she now uses with confidence to answer questions at school, sing at the top of her lungs, and sass the heck out of me. However, I know they are doing an even greater service to children who have no voice at all.

And the best part is, they do it absolutely FREE of charge to families, regardless of their financial status or insurance coverage. The clinic is completely funded by corporate and foundation grants, fundraising events, and individual donors. They receive no state or federal funding, yet they save taxpayers money by identifying and remedying hundreds of speech and language disorders before many children would even qualify for state funded programs. Had we waited to receive free services through our school district, my daughter wouldn’t have started therapy until last year. But because of The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic, she has been correctly saying “spider” and “thing” for over two years now.

Everyone and their elf is asking you to dig deep into your pockets at this time of year. But if you have a little left after your endless Christmas gift lists, please consider making a small donation (tax-deductible – yay!) to The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic’s Speak Up For Kids campaign. I did. (If you can’t donate, please consider spreading the word by sharing this blog.) It definitely doesn’t cover the invaluable gift we received from them, but I know that every little bit helps. And if my little bit, and your little bit, and the little bits from a lot of people all get together, we can help give the gift of communication to another child who doesn’t already have it. And another parent can feel all warm and mushy when she hears her child ask to go to Uncle Donald’s for some french fries.


You can also like The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic Facebook Page.

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30 thoughts on “Help Them Find Their Words. Even The Gibberish Ones.

  1. This is a great post, and it *IS* very important to help children find their words. My daughter was diagnosed with apraxia a little over a year ago and we have been through some extensive speech therapy for her. Her’s was a specific case where the path between the brain and the articulators wasn’t functioning properly. We were turned on to a great speech pathologist in the area that took great care and patience with her (and us) as we learned to manipulate the muscles in her mouth with other triggers in order for her brain to reassociate those tasks. She still goes three times a week (will be once a week after the first of the year, thank you insurance hikes!) but we’ve come a LONG way! She still has some problems with the “S” and the “TH” and “F” sounds but she’s getting it, and she’s enjoying the simple act of communicating. There was a day that we wondered if she’d ever talk, and now I’m happy to say that at bedtime I have to tell her to stop talking and go to sleep (she likes to tell the stories now, not me). 🙂


    1. It is amazing what speech therapists can help our children accomplish. I am so happy to hear your daughter has become a regular chatterbox. But you also bring up a challenge: how expensive private speech therapy can be. It makes me sad to know you guys will have to cut back on your daughter’s therapy when it is obviously so successful. I wish there were more places like Scottish Rite where people didn’t have to deal with insurance. Some people are out of luck if they don’t have insurenace coverage. Or like us, insurance wouldn’t have deemed my daughter’s issue as worthy of therapy…so we would have been on our own to foot the bill. Or wait until she was deemed age inappropriate for her impediments by state standards, qualifying her for state funded services. The problem is that state funded programs have to abide by standards that don’t allow for early intervention, which has the best opportunity for success.


  2. It is absolutely amazing what speech therapy can do for children, and yes, especially when found and treated early! (our’s started before she was two years old). It’s wonderful that you found a place such as Scottish Rite that does this without regards to insurance or financial abilities of the families. I’m telling you, it isn’t cheap for miracle workers to provide successes such as those seen (heard) in your daughter. I hope that your post reaches those that need to read it, as well as those that can give to such an amazing cause.


  3. It’s wonderful that this program exists. Having seen the quality and bizarre requirements of speech pathology in some schools when my young cousin was getting speech therapy, that sounds like an invaluable resource.


  4. Outstanding! I will donate when I get back to my purse. Thank you for the post. I, like your sister, am an SLP, and I hate the circumstance when a child (or adult) in need and with motivation to work toward improvement don’t get the help they need because of funding, and the truth about school services is that those school-based SLPs are having to treat with their hands tied behind their backs.


    1. You are an amazing rock star!!!! Not only for the donation, but also being an SLP! And you are so right about the problems school-based SLP’s have. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be getting better…for SLPs or teachers.


  5. I hold that speech therapists are some of the greatest people on Earth. Your post reminded me of when my brother went to one when he was really young to help him with a stutter. He still talks about Dr. S very lovingly. She made a difference in the lives of our entire family by helping my brother communicate with us more fluently.


    1. I love not only that she helped him, but that he still has fond memories of her. My daughter still loves seeing Sr. Margaret when whenever we get a chance to see her at fundraisers…she makes a point of saying a lot of words with “s” and “th” whenever she talks to her 🙂 Show off.


  6. They definitely are an asset to the St. Louis Community. And the change in Grace was remarkable, but I have to admit I really miss when she called Cathy “Aunt Taffy”. But it certainly wouldn’t be cute at age 8!


  7. Speaking as a pediatric SLP (for many years in the public schools and private setting), we cherish the successes of each one of our students. These kids touch our hearts in immeasurable ways! Thank you for all the kind words. 🙂

    PS. I’m a HUGE advocate of the generous work of the Scottish Rite!


    1. I think it is definitely one of those underappreciated professions. Unless you have a child with speech issues, a lot of people don’t realize what important work SLPs do. So thanks for all YOUR work!


  8. Providing speech therapy for Grace was fun! Her face lit up when she said a sound correctly. You and Kurtis helped with teaching when you observed therapy and worked with Grace at home. We did a great job and Grace was the star!

    Sister Margaret


  9. It seems a lot of people have some experience in this area. Our firstborn had a hearing problem and being the young, inexperienced parents that we were, we weren’t the first to recognize it and we never connected he dots between his hearing issue and his poor speech. The day he got the eustatian (sp?) tubes, he was sitting in the back seat with his hands over his ears. I felt pretty stupid and guilty about this for many years. I have a cassette tape of each of my boys where I would record a couple minutes with each of them and they are perhaps my most precious possessions (yes I have digital copies). I have a recording of Mitch singing the Star Spangled Banner with his poor speech (for the most part it was lacking hard consonants)…oh say han yu cee by da dawn ury li, wut so poudy we hale at da tilit las deemy

    Mitch’s speech is really cute and yet it still makes me feel like an idiot – we were only 20 when we married and just not educated on many topics I guess. Today Kim and I still use a few of his words in private when we talk to each other. For example, eggs are “eds”.

    A simple surgery and a number of speech lessons and everything great. Luckily we found it before kindergarten. Check him out today 🙂


    1. He’s amazing!! You must be very proud of him. And I love that you have recordings of your kids. It’s easy to forget what they sounded like. Even at only 8, my daughter sounds so much different than she did in the video I posted here.

      It’s easy for parents to feel guilty when they don’t catch something. I remember feeling horrible when I took my daughter to the doctor for her regular check up and she had a double ear infection. I had no clue! But we have to remember we aren’t experts at everything. Luckily, we usually have people in our lives that help us out with these things. And your son doesn’t sound any worse for the wear. That early intervention was the trick!!


      1. you may or may not have picked up on this, but he’s playing all the instruments, doing all the camera work, all the production of the sound, all the special effects and editing……pretty serious skills. I’m so proud of him. 🙂


  10. Just realized I hadn’t read this yet! Great message and your daughter was (and probably still is) adorable!! I remember my nanny baby used to say Va-lin-a instead of Vanilla and I miss that SO MUCH. 🙂


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