“Teachers need as much parental help as they can get. I appreciate parents who become involved in the learning process and interact with me about testing. If your school has email for the instructors, that can be an easy way to find out what each teacher doing with your child.” ~Teacher and parent of child with apraxia
If you have a child with a communication impairment, you are probably their best translator. It’s frightening for both you and your child to be separated on those first days of school, but there are things you can do to make the transition easier. One of them is writing a letter to your child’s new teacher so they have a better understanding of one of their precious new students.
A Sample Letter to Teacher about Your Child with Verbal Apraxia, (Feel free to change it for your child’s needs.)
Dear (Teacher name),
This year, you’ll have my very special child in your class. When you look at (name), you’ll see eyes that light up and are full of life. He looks like other children. But my child has lived with a lot of silence and a great struggle to communicate. My child has verbal apraxia.
Verbal apraxia is a speech disorder that is both difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat. Those with apraxia know what they want to say. The words are in their heads but often, they’re not able to produce the words clearly. For unknown reasons, individuals with apraxia have great difficulty planning and producing the precise, highly refined and specific series of movements of the tongue, lips, jaw and palate that are necessary for intelligible speech.
As one expert has said, the problem occurs when the brain tries to tell the muscles what to do — somehow that message gets scrambled. It’s like trying to watch cable TV stations without the right descrambler. There is nothing wrong with the TV station, and nothing wrong with your set. It’s just that your set can’t read the signal that the station is sending out.
The child’s language- learning task is to figure out how to somehow unscramble the mixed message his brain is sending to his muscles.
Those with apraxia do understand language and speech. Apraxia in itself is not a cognitive or receptive disorder. However, especially in children, others might mistake and misjudge unclear speech or quietness as a lack of understanding, or cognitive deficits. Many children with apraxia experience a great sense of failure and frustration in their attempts to communicate. Some children grow even quieter; others may act out their frustration. Children with apraxia need the support of teachers and parents.
What You (the Teacher) Can Do
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) needs to help my child learn to speak with more ease and clarity. It will help my child if you communicate frequently with the SLP and determine if there are things that you can do in the classroom to help my child communicate and practice speech.
Try to create a tension-free and interesting “communication environment” for my child. Encourage but do not insist he try to speak. Praise his attempts at speech, if only for effort. Please know that sometimes my child might not respond or might respond “I don’t know” as a way to help himself get out of a difficult communication challenge.
Sometimes the fast pace of others can leave my child out of the experience although he may be able to successfully communicate if others just offer a bit more time and patience.
Watch for and create opportunities to help my child make friends. It can be difficult for a child with apraxia to “break into” social communication and situations. A supportive and nurturing teacher can surely help. No child should be lonely and all children need a friend.
Intervene immediately in any situations that involve bullying or teasing. Reassure my child that you are his supporter and advocate and that no teasing is acceptable.
Be aware that sometimes children with apraxia are also physically uncoordinated, making competitive sports or even drawing, cutting, and other motor tasks difficult. If you notice something, please do bring it to my attention so we can work together to help my child.
Keep in mind that due to the delay in speech children with apraxia may have developmental lags in reading or writing. That does not mean they have an impairment in these areas, and there are teaching strategies to help them.
Be open to alternative ways my child may need to communicate. Often pictures can help my child as a bridge to clear speech, helping us gain insight into his thoughts.
Include me as your partner. I want very much to help my child and to do everything possible to help him or her. I hope we will always reach out to communicate and share information with each other for the benefit of my child.