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.
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.
Unrelated Business: Kerry Whitely, you won the Memories with Santa Book! Message me your address at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can get that sent out to you! Those of you who didn’t win the book can still get a copy at www.throughtheyearsonline.com, Lillian Vernon, or next to Santa at malls across the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and England.