Only a mother of an apraxic child would dream of the day when her little one can say “no.” I’m sure all mothers will agree that this can be the most annoying word … ever. Especially when it’s often misused by defiant, stubborn toddlers who pronounce the /n/ perfectly in a louder than necessary tone.
This simple, yet huge important form of communication, began for us about six months ago by Jake silently nodding his head for yes and shaking his head for no. Although he didn’t always respond correctly, we were finally beginning our trek to speaking the same language and my life instantly became easier. What a great invention the word no was. I’ll take it over screaming and crying any day.
By the time Jake reached his third birthday in September, his nodding and shaking accuracy was almost perfect, but he still could not repeat those simple, little words we so longed to hear. At this time we began speech therapy at public school and his SLP began her quest to teach Jake the /n/ sound.
I was surprised to discover that there are a few tricks of the trade in teaching children certain sounds. At this point, Jake had been with two other SLPs, but neither one had tried or mentioned these techniques. Our new therapist helped him say the /n/ sound, by getting him to place his index finger against one side of his nose and gently pressing his nostril shut.
She also showed him that his tongue needed to be up and behind his teeth in order to make this sound. He couldn’t do it at first. He would try, but usually his tongue ended up in front of his teeth.
She then suggested we could help him at home by placing a Cheerio behind his top, front teeth and letting him hold it in place with his tongue. Although I heard this and thought, That sounds easy. He’ll be able to do that with no problem, he actually couldn’t. He liked this exercise and thought it was fun, so we practiced a good bit and eventually his tongue got more coordinated and he was able to do it.
During this stage, Jake was decent at saying vowel sounds; “no” was a great basic consonant-vowel combination for him to begin with. He had trouble, but we kept trying, both at home and at speech therapy. For months I would sit beside him in therapy, focusing on this sound, my own mouth in perfect /n/ form, as if I could beam it over to his little mouth that tried so hard each time.
There is a happy ending to this story. Finally, after about two months of /n/ training, Jake was able give us a perfect, beautiful “no” and although I was elated with his progress, I couldn’t help but immediately wish for a “yes.”
A new SLP entered our lives in December and for the past five weeks or so, Jake has been learning how to say yes. We are practicing the Kaufman method with him, which involves breaking this word down into the two syllables of “ee-es” (long e sound first & short e sound second). Right now he has his own little word for yes, but when I correct him and make him break it down, he can say it pretty well.
I am relentless in my yes training and I make him say it correctly every time and everyone in our family reinforces it. It doesn’t matter where we’re at – home, grocery store, playing with friends, etc. – I make him say it the right way.
I have to admit, I do feel a little self-conscious speaking this overly emphasized, distinct language in front of other people. But each day it becomes our new normal and I know consistent repetition puts us one step closer to another perfect word.