Wednesday, January 30, 2019

What a Mother and her Daughter Reminded Me

Today, as my husband and I pulled into our driveway, we saw a Girl Scout, who looked about 10 years old, and her mother on our front porch. The mother waved to us, her daughter looked at us, but then proceeded to ring the doorbell five times, causing our dog to start barking like crazy. 

As I got out of the car I thought, okay kind of unusual, she saw us but still rang the doorbell.  We walked up to them and said hi. The mother smiled wide and said hello. The Girl Scout didn’t respond. Instead she was trying to now knock loudly on the door, calling for our dog to come to the door and play. My SLP brain clicked, and I realized she was somewhere on the spectrum. 

The mom turned to her daughter and reminded her to say hi and to ask us if we would want cookies. Instead, the girl turned toward us and asked if she could come inside to meet our dog. We said yes, of course, as long as it was okay with her mom. Mom happily nodded and agreed. 

They were inside our house for about 15 minutes. The girl LOVED our dog. She talked to her a mile a minute, gave her treats, and tossed her treats. The mom chatted with us the whole time. Finally, we bought two boxes, and they were on their way. 

Why am I sharing this with you? This girl’s mother did not ONCE apologize for her daughter’s socially questionable behaviors of asking to enter our home or her multiple requests to borrow our dog, or to stay at our house longer. She was patient with her daughter. She praised her for being so gentle with our dog. She asked her a math question about how much money we owed if we wanted two boxes and they were each $5. She gently reminded her to say goodbye. This mom rocked. The word “Autism” was never mentioned, because it didn’t need to be.  

Dear parents and special educators of any kind, our students and these children are so much more than just a label. Instead of apologizing for any unexpected behaviors, let's do what this mother did and look for what these children are doing well, then praise it.  Let's thank any bystanders for their patience, rather than apologizing that our student is not listening, or sitting, or having quiet hands.  Dear parents, keep up the good work.  It is not easy, but it is worth it when your child feels your love and support rather than disapproval. Dear special educators, let's take notice of these parents actions, adopt them, and bring them into our classrooms and therapy rooms. Let's remember that these children are just that- children.  

*Credit: blog image from SpeechLanguagePirates

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Preserving the Language of Our Grandparents

"Buono venedi! No lavoro domani!" 👨🏻

"Yes! Hurray for fini de semana!" "Ancora una giornata!"👩🏻

"Oggi una giorno di sole." 👨🏻

"Si, it is nice.  Make sure to mangi buono dolce later."👩🏻

"Si, ci vendiamo domani. Tu voluo bene."👨🏻

"Sounds good, ci vendiamo domani, love you sempre."👩🏻

Ever since my grandpa passed away one year ago, my Uncle Nick texts me in Sicilian.  This is an example of one of our conversations, with my sentences mostly being a mix of Sicilian and English.  My uncle knows my deep yearning to keep our family's language alive.  I was never fluent.  My grandparents always spoke English around me.  Now that my grandpa isn't here, I feel a desperation to hold onto every sound and syllable that his tongue once spoke so naturally.  I struggle with the vowels and the conjugations and the vocabulary.  They feels clumsy in my mouth, and I imagine the words slipping from my brain like sand through fingers, like that item on the top shelf your fingers graze against when you can't quite reach.

Me and Grandpa

As Speech-Language Pathologists, we understand better than many the frequent unfortunate demise of  family's native languages.  As people immigrate to new countries, it's only natural that they try to acclimate.  The first way how, is by learning the language.  As they begin having children, these children go to school and learn the new language quickly and fluently- often much more fluently than their parents ever will.  The children may become embarrassed by the way their parents speak, and then refuse to use their L1 (first language). Alternatively, in the past and unfortunately sometimes in the present, doctors or other professionals recommended parents stop speaking their L1 to children to avoid "language confusion" or a language delay.  This myth now has been proven false by many, many research studies.  It is our responsibility as professionals, to educate these families on the facts and on the importance of maintaining their culture through their language. 

Here are five ideas for helping your children become bilingual, if you yourself are.

1. Split up the language. Have yourself speak only one language to the child at all times, and have your partner speak only the second language to the child.  Make sure that the language you are assigned is one that you have native-like proficiency in!

2. If you do not have a partner to split the bilingual responsibility with, no problem.  Divvy up the languages by day.  Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays get one language, and Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays get the other language.  This way, children hear full day vocabulary, rather than speaking one language every morning and a second language every night.  If you do this, they may only learn how to say "breakfast" in one language 😂

3. Make sure to read your child books in both languages that you hope they become bilingual in! Books are known to have much more extensive vocabulary than we typically speak in day-to-day life.  It will also expose your child to written words in both languages.

4. Do your parents have more fluency in a language than you do? Insist that they speak only this language to your children at all times! Don't be flexible about it.  I so wish that my grandparents had only spoken Sicilian with me, because when growing up I was at their house pretty much every other day.  I'm sure it never occurred to them, but now that you have the knowledge from reading this blog, share it with your parents.

5. If your household all speaks the same second language fluently, another option would be to speak ONLY this language at home with your child.  They will learn the country's dominant language at school and out in the community, so there is no need to worry about this.

Bonus Tip!

Do. Not. Give. Up. It is HARD and a lot of work. This is why in many families the first born child is the most fluent in the parent's native language as well as their environment's language, and the second and third born children are not.  With every child they have, parents are busier, more tired, and more overwhelmed with day-to-day responsibilities.  But please, do not quit.

One day your child will speak the same words that your grandparents once spoke to you, and your heart will flutter with happiness, pride, and nostalgia as you feel your ancestors smile down on you.