I am para­phras­ing the bib­li­cal admo­ni­tion to ‘teach a man to fish and…’

When we don’t con­scious­ly work on teach­ing our chil­dren, any child, to speak we are depriv­ing them of life itself. A child who can speak well can accom­plish more than a child who reads well – I know. I was a child who could read ‘well’ and ear­ly and I prob­a­bly start­ed to speak ear­ly, as a first-born. But my abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate ver­bal­ly was ham­pered from before my first days in school until this day.

I have devel­oped some abil­i­ty to write in lat­er years but I wasn’t any good at it in my school years. Words sim­ply didn’t come eas­i­ly to me despite my abil­i­ty to appar­ent­ly read ‘well’. I work hard all the time with my oral com­mu­ni­ca­tion and am not always successful.

Yes­ter­day I was in the com­pa­ny of a beloved 30-some­thing Down’s Syn­drome friend. We have a warm fam­i­ly rela­tion­ship with this young man. His late moth­er worked so hard in order that both her chil­dren, her Down’s son and her gift­ed daugh­ter, had the best and fairest oppor­tu­ni­ties at school. Both have done excep­tion­al­ly well, to the very best of their abilities.

My friend’s under­stand­ing of lan­guage, val­ues and ideas is remark­able. In his own way he too is gift­ed. But the biggest strug­gle I have is tun­ing into his speech pat­tern. It takes me a while to com­pre­hend what he’s talk­ing about – he always under­stands what I’m say­ing and his com­ments are always rel­e­vant and are often humourous!!

This remark­able young man would have ben­e­fit­ed so much from intense speech ther­a­py. I think because his par­ents and teach­ers were so tuned into his brain and his speech pat­tern they over­looked the need for clar­i­ty of speech to the out­side world. Espe­cial­ly with Down’s, a clar­i­ty of speech would reduce the ini­tial, and often incor­rect, pre­sup­po­si­tion of severe men­tal limitations.

I’ve been priv­i­leged to know three Down’s adults and their fam­i­lies. The ‘children’ are respec­tive­ly in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. They com­mu­ni­cate so well and love to talk to peo­ple but only one has a clar­i­ty of speech that makes it easy to under­stand her.

By the same token I’ve been in the com­pa­ny of gift­ed chil­dren who talk almost too much in social sit­u­a­tions. Par­ents allow their 11 year olds to hold forth exten­sive­ly in adult com­pa­ny. I accept that a child may have a won­der­ful com­mand of the lan­guage, all-impor­tant with bright chil­dren, but there has to be the social bal­ance and it has to be taught by the parents.

Learn­ing to speak can­not and should not hap­pen by acci­dent (as it all too fre­quent­ly does, and ‘late’ to boot) and it cer­tain­ly won’t hap­pen as long as we leave tod­dlers in front of TV, DVD’s and oth­er com­put­er relat­ed pro­grammes and expect that they will learn to speak the lan­guage from such mechan­i­cal, dehu­man­ized, unemo­tion­al ‘voices’.

Learn­ing to com­mu­ni­cate hap­pens from the ear­li­est days. We learn that the world is hos­pitable, or not. If we are in a hos­pitable envi­ron­ment we will com­mu­ni­cate with those around us – smiles, gur­gles etc. When that envi­ron­ment is stunt­ed by poor care­giv­ing, mediocre care­giv­ing, care­giv­ing in a cen­tre or group set­ting, chil­dren suf­fer depri­va­tion that often won’t be appar­ent until the child attends for­mal school­ing at age 5.

Par­ents and adults around young chil­dren need to start to take very seri­ous­ly their respon­si­bil­i­ties for teach­ing a child to speak. Chil­dren are being deprived of their nat­ur­al born right to com­mu­ni­cate and as a result we have come to accept ‘temper tantrums’.

‘Temper tantrum­s’ are sim­ply the result of par­ents and oth­er adults los­ing inter­est in a child’s growth and devel­op­ment. It’s that sim­ple. The nov­el­ty of the infant has gone and now a real human being needs to be con­scious­ly worked with – par­ents don’t have that much ener­gy or incli­na­tion to for­go their own needs and the child becomes frus­trat­ed – and, drum roll please…the child has a tantrum.

Trust me (yes I’m shout­ing again!): 


If we con­scious­ly work every day to encour­age our chil­dren to speak clear­ly we reduce everyone’s lev­el of frustration.

Teach a child to speak!