Reading Green Eggs and Ham with Apraxia
By Leslie Lindsay
I don’t know about you, but I love books. I love kids. And when one combines the love for children and literature, what often results is the abundance of words. And perhaps the proud moment of announcing, “Hey—she can read!” a year of two ahead of schedule.
But not if you have a child with apraxia.*
At two years old, our daughter Kate was a beautiful, energetic, and happy toddler. With the exception of one word—hi—Kate was as quiet as a mouse. We wondered if something was wrong. Even as a baby, Kate rarely babbled and cried; she was beautiful and unique with red hair and bright blue eyes. She was, in a word, “perfect.” So why were we worried? After all, she could understand everything we said, even the big words. And what was so wrong with having a quiet, happy toddler?
And so we read. As parents we read parenting books about late-talking children. We read about speech development and ways to stimulate our child. We read books to Kate. Simple board books by Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton that had the happy cadence of alliteration and rhyme. We pointed out illustrations in the book, “Oh, look-y here…can you see the birdie? Can you say bird?” We engaged in dialogic reading with our daughter, “What do think will happen next?” And nothing.
Sure, she understood everything we said, even the hard words. We could tell because she would be able to perform simple directions like, “go get your shoes, we’re going for a walk.” But still, nothing. At least not any expressive language.
Kate was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), a neurologically- based motor speech disorder in which kids know what they want to say, yet they can’t coordinate the complex movements required to speak intelligibly. She was 2 ½ years old. What resulted instead was a lot of pointing and gibberish.
Fast-forward five years, and you will see that Kate has overcome a considerable challenge. She is now a normally-speaking soon-to-be 2nd grader. Sure, there were struggles and years of speech therapy.
Our speech-language pathologist (SLP), mentioned that children with CAS have a particularly difficult time with identifying and composing rhymes. Why exactly this is, is speculative. Some say it has to do with the overall motor circulatory of the brain, the “wiring,” if you will; or the abstract arrangement of sounds and letters, perhaps it’s the mind-body connection, or simply being a visual versus auditory learner…in any case, it’s a challenge.
But just this past week, we pulled out Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. My husband handed the shiny orange book to Kate at bedtime,** “Here, you read this one.” She looked at her daddy with wide eyes, “You can do it,” he coaxed.
She sucked in a deep breath and rolled her lips into a tight line, “I am Sam,” she began.
My eyes welled with tears. Her voice a little choppy (prosody is something she will likely always struggle with), a few stumbles here and there, and a long pause about half-way through, I cheered her on in my mind. Finally, she sighed, “I can’t do it anymore.” We egged her on (sorry, couldn’t resist), “Yes. You can do this.” (We ended up alternating pages. Reading aloud can be very taxing for children with apraxia).
And you know what? She read that whole book. Say, I do like reading and rhyming, Kate-I-am. (*Commonly known as Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), or “dyspraxia of speech” in the U.K. and elsewhere. **In retrospect, it would have been best to have Kate attempt a challenging rhyming book at a time of day when she is likely to be more alert).
Try it at home:
· Remember, you are your child’s cheerleader. Let them know you care and support them, but don’t make it too easy. Challenging your children to the point of feeling slightly uncomfortable is okay. It means they are growing (and you are, too)
· Get yourself to the library. Ask a children’s librarian for some simple rhyming books. Even if they seem a little “baby-ish,” read them to and with your child with apraxia. Practice, practice, practice! (Some titles to look for, There’s a Closet in My Woset by Dr. Seuss, ‘Twas the Night Before Kindergarten (1st grade edition also available) by Natasha Wing, BOB books).
· Remember, there is a difference between rhyming books (cat and mat) and predictable/repetitive books (it’s pretty clear that you know what will happen next; the same phrase pops up every few lines (Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown) and wordless books (there is no text; you and your child create your own story as you study the illustrations; Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day) and cause and effect books (If You Give a…. series by Laura Numeroff) All types of books are important to a child with CAS.
· Extend your reading activity to make it whole-body experience. Act it out (as in charades), whip up a batch of green eggs and ham or some chocolate chip cookies. Have your child draw a picture or make her own “book” related to what you just read.
Bio: Leslie Lindsay is former child/adolescent psych R.N. at the Mayo Clinic-Rochester. She is the mother of two school-aged daughters and a basset hound, named Sally. Lindsay and her family reside in the Chicago suburbs where she writes full-time. She is the author of “Speaking of Apraxia: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech” (Woodbine House, March 2012). Read more on her blog, “Practical Parenting…with a Twist” where she writes about apraxia, parenting, education, and more 5 days a week, www.leslie4kids.wordpress.com