Speech Improvements Galore – Fish Oil, Speech Therapy, Both, or What?

by Tim on April 23, 2008

J-Man has made huge leaps forward in his speech lately. This is all relative and he’s still way behind for his age (almost 2 yrs. 8 mos. and is probably close to 18 months behind), but for him this has been a quantum leap forward the past couple of weeks.

For a bit of backstory:

As you probably know, severe speech delays (or non-existent speech) are one of the pillar symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder and are probably the most straightforward way of differentiating autism from Asperger’s (all other things being roughly equal).

ASD kids tend to fall into two general groups: those who never really developed speech or developed it very slowly, and those who had normal speech development and then ‘lost it’. I know next to nothing about the latter and am not going to get into the debate about what brings that about. J-Man falls pretty clearly into the former group, so I’ll talk about what I know.

He has gained and lost some syllables over time in the past, but that problem seems to have faded away now. He’s retaining most of the syllables he’s picking up, which is wonderful. I know it’s not uncommon for kids with apraxia to have ‘lost speech’ problems, and that seems to be the case with him.

For example, about a year or more ago, he said ball (‘bah’ or ‘bah-bah’) and duck (‘duh’ or ‘duck’ with a very soft ‘ck’ on the end). After doing that for a while, we haven’t heard them much at all since, nor anything else that starts with ‘b’ or ‘d’. One of our therapists said that speech for kids like him has a hard time “locking in” and that this will happen.

Instead of thinking of it as having speech and losing it, it made a lot more sense for his therapies to look at it like him maintaining this sort of Law of Conservation of Total Syllables. On the whole, his total number of syllables remained about the same or increased very, very slowly, but I wouldn’t say he ever regressed for any length of time. This helped us chart his progress better and stay more positive about it. That whole situation was weird to us, but the apraxia diagnosis made sense and still does.

One things he’s done for a long time that is both fascinating and frustrating is that he will out of the blue say a syllable he rarely if ever says (like ‘sh’ or ‘ffff’ or ‘ts’), will do that for a minute or less, and then we won’t hear it again for weeks. Apparently this is also common to kids with apraxia, which is itself common for kids with an ASD.

As our readers likely know, we’ve been giving him fish oil for about the last two months. Within the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen marked improvement with his speech. As I said in my last Omega-3 Watch post, I hesitate to put those two sentences together as I have no hard evidence that the fish oil caused the improvements. We have also been focusing on speech therapy intensely at home during that time, and that (or both) could be bringing this about. We don’t know, but we’re going to keep doing both.

What I am convinced is helping tremendously is his patience level. As we’ve been able to withhold things he wants for longer periods of time until he asks for them in some (or any) verbal way, his speech level has improved drastically. It used to be that he would fall apart a half-second after you held something back from him. As that time got longer, things got easier, albeit with not a lot of speech improvement. In a few seconds, he would just get so flustered that we’d lose him. It seemed to me that he was so frustrated that he couldn’t say the word that he got upset.

As his ability to tolerate this withholding has gone up and his patience with himself has increased, this process has gotten much easier. They told us a year ago that this would be the cornerstone of his speech therapy; he had to be willing to be patient and have the ability to tolerate frustration to have a breakthrough. They were right.

They’re basic line: “He has to be ready to do give-and-take or else speech therapy won’t help.” Yep. And all that effort we’ve put into accomplishing that has really paid off.

Here are past and present examples.

Before:

Me: Would you like more to drink? (pause a second and withhold the cup)
J: (nothing, but is looking at me)
Me: More? (pausing a second or two)
J: (nothing, but looking more distressed, maybe reaching toward the cup)
Me: Can you say more?
J: (getting more agitated, whining, no words)

Repeat this a couple of more rounds and he’d get upset and whiny without saying anything word-wise.

Now:

Me: Would you like more drink? (or more cup) – pause a few seconds.
J: (looks at me and the cup but may not say anything in this round)
Me: Do you want more cup? (pause a few more seconds)
J: (Looks for a couple of seconds, then) Mo-mo. (what he says for ‘more’)
Me: More what?
J: (readily says) Kuh-kuh. (what he says for ‘cup’)

Then he gets the cup and drinks. That exchange probably takes about as long as the first one, but he’s expressed his needs verbally, gets what he wants, and we go forward and keep eating.

Interestingly, if he doesn’t really want more of something, he usually just refuses to say it.

This is a quantum leap forward for him.

With apraxic kids, the ability to have your own parental self-control and patience to wait calmly along with your child’s ability to be patient enough to plan out the words and talk are crucial. Our natural tendency is to repeat things quickly or give in. It’s hard to fight that, but J-Man has done much better if we give him several seconds or even longer to think about what he wants to say and plan out how to say it. Now that he’s patient enough for that and we are too, things are going more smoothly.

The benefits of this are carrying over to other therapies as well, so this has been a real positive for him. Yay, man!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ty August 25, 2009 at 3:54 pm

I really enjoyed reading your blog. I have a 19 month old boy who turns 2 in Nov, he is not speaking yet but says sounds like KA,DA,TA,BA he says hi and ball and uh ooo but that is it. And it is a struggle to get him to repeat them. I will try the fish oil method, at this point nothing can hurt.

Tim August 30, 2009 at 10:22 am

Ty,

Thanks for reading! Glad you’re enjoying it!

If you’re in the U.S. and you haven’t done this already, make sure you contact your local Early Intervention program, which your son would now be eligible for. Through them, you or anyone else with a child under age 3 can get speech and other kinds of evaluations and likely get various kinds of support (financial and otherwise) for therapies appropriate to his needs.

Early Signs has a good intro to Early Intervention regardless of whether autism is part of your equation or not. Your pediatrician should also be able to get you started in the right direction with your local Early Intervention office.

Fish oil is worth a try. It may help, it may not. I’m a big believer in getting professional speech, developmental, occupational, educational, and any of those related therapies – as appropriate, of course – as the primary approach to helping children progress. But things like diet, etc. obviously shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Best wishes!

Patti Van Burkleo May 2, 2012 at 12:29 am

If a child child has speech delays, the usual diagnosis is autism. In the case of my son (15), who suffered from significant speech delays was still diagnosed with Asperger’s at ….go figure. Guess it becomes moot with the DSM V.

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