Speech therapy is used to help communication and social skills and reduce frustration in children who have difficultly expressing themselves due to their disability.
Speech therapy includes working on verbal as well as non verbal communication skills, including listening skills, to understand the context and enable better pronunciation of words and phrases. This usually also involves using vision to watch mouth movements of others in order to improve general speech and pronunciation.
Since Tomas is also virtually blind, it is difficult for him to learn effectively using vision without close up teaching, so most of Tomas´s speech therapy sessions are based on close up work with vision and extensive use of his ability to hear. Manipulation of his mouth and tongue are also used to help him to learn the correct way to say and pronounce words correctly.
The importance of chewing and moving food around in the mouth to eat at an early age is highly significant in helping children such as Tomas to speak. Again, due to the fact that Tomas had both Cerebral Palsy and vision problems, he had issues with swallowing and chewing, This was due to the fact that his tongue, throat and neck muscles were weak and he could not learn by vision how to break food up in his mouth.
We therefore had to take time to patiently introduce foods of a greater consistency and solidity over a long period of time, This was done using a special device, which looked like a large dummy with a gauze screwed on the end enclosing a pocket, into which different types of food could be placed to encourage him to chew and swallow more solid foods.
Eventually we taught him to use his tongue to move the food around his mouth to enable teeth to connect with the food and break it up. It was a long battle, but it proved invaluable in helping Tomas learn how to use his tongue effectively, while at the same time strengthening his tongue and throat muscles to enable more effective use in both eating and speaking. The importance of this was paramount in helping Tomas begin to speak.
The speech therapy sessions have then helped Tomas to improve that basic speech ability and express his wants and needs in a more comprehensible way. This is being acheived by repetitive practice of words and short phrases, questions and answers, songs and stories etc. These sessions are specifically designed to have structure and include all sorts of specially selected and sourced toys, learning materials and digital media e.g. special DVDs focused on slow and simple learning techniques based on the basic principles of listening and speech. They are also specifically tailored to Tomas´s abilities and disabilities to ensure they are most effective.
The speech therapy sessions are combined with basic learning, so as to be varied and interesting, with the level of challenge regarding the learning slowly increasing over time to ensure confident and effective progress. Since Tomas also his problems with the use of this arms and hands, the sessions also incorporate the use of specially chosen objects and materials which require Tomas to use his fine motor skills. This helps to improve Tomas´s ability to eat, drink, dress, brush his teeth etc.
These sessions have proved to be essential building blocks to enabling Tomas to communicate and express his basic wants and needs and more recently to form basic conversation or informational exchange with those around him. They are also helping him to improve his ability to complete everyday tasks which typical children can perform alone without effort. This has in turn has played a vital role in reducing his frustration in trying to communicate and increasing his confidence and pleasure during his everyday life.
It has been proven over many years that the earlier children like Tomas are introduced to speech and learning therapies, the more succesful the therapy will be in improving the overall quality of life of chidren with profound disabilities. We believe and have first hand evidence in the progression Tomas has made, that such sessions are an extremely important element of his overall therapy program.