Desperately seeking ‘s’

HERE are Amelia and P, her wonderful speech pathologist, searching for that elusive ‘s’ sound. The mechanics of just one little sound like an ‘s’ can take years for a deaf child like Amelia to learn and master. It’s too soft, too secretive, for her ears to pick up clearly so she needs a lot of support to work it out.

I sit and watch while they practice making repetitive, sibilant, snake sounds. P elongates the consonant, drawing it out in a long, slow hiss at the start or end of a word. Or just by itself. Everything has to be emphasised so that Amelia can identify the sound and start to join the dots on how our mouth, breath and tongue collaborate to form a simple ‘s’.

So they sit together on a Tuesday morning and they hiss, and laugh and hold each others hands to feel the breath, the noise, made by each other’s mouths.They are gorgeous to witness, because there’s so much affection sitting alongside the toil.

Amelia’s ‘s’ is thinner, more tentative than P’s. She’s still not sure of herself and when P adds in tricky little vowel combinations, sometimes the ‘s’ disappears, falling away for a moment. But they’ll pick it up again next Tuesday when they meet.

And Amelia will retain a little bit more each time until one day, maybe this year, Amelia will unlock the secret of that slippery little ‘s’.