A Slowly Expanding World: My Journey with Late-Talkers

 

To me, Kate has always been exactly who she should be.

Her quietness, her uncertainty around adults that she didn’t know well, her choosing to communicate in every way possible, just not with words. She’d always been a quiet child, and coming from two pretty darn introverted parents, it all felt normal.

It felt right.

For her.

And as Kate reached two and a half, Sean and I honestly agreed she wasn’t talking like other two-year-olds. Again, we weren’t worried, but we did want to help her in whatever way we could for whatever was missing with the language piece.

It turns out it was nothing, and, a lot.

A lot because she does have a language disorder, which, for most of the world out there who doesn’t know, this is very, very different from a speech disorder. And in Kate’s case, her language disorder is caused more by her temperament than anything else. She’d chosen not to talk because she knew darn well when she did, it wouldn’t be perfect. And if her words couldn’t be perfect? If she was going to feel an incredible amount of stress because of that?

Well, then she wasn’t gonna say a word.

Of course, as you know, you can’t just jump on a bike and ride a marathon over bumpy terrain, especially not on your first go.

You need to practice.

Turns out Eric’s got a similar deal going on with not trusting his words. So I guess my kids are pretty normal… for my family, anyway. For my kids, this is just what life needs to be. It’s a very natural process for them.

And that’s okay.

I’m the one that’s got to understand and figure out how best to help them. They are two completely normal children; they just have an issue with language. It’s gonna take them a little longer to learn it, with a ton of love, a ton of patience, and way more trust thrown in.

So that’s what we did. And when you mix those three ingredients together: love, patience, trust… something magical happens.

Kate started to open up. Her words, her understanding, blossomed.

It began slow. There was really no mythical spontaneous burst of full-on sentences (and if that happened to you, you are very blessed and I’m jealous… except, not really cause I wouldn’t change a thing in my kids). I noticed that Kate understood when she’s holding the banana peel in her hand and when I said, “throw it away….”

She does it.

Or, she starts playing with the little dolls that look exactly like a mommy, daddy, and baby, and says:

“Baby.”

“Daddy.”

(Not mommy though, at least not for me. I had to wait until Kate was four before I heard that beautiful word.)

Beautiful. Precious. Amazing.

That’s what it is. There’s nothing like it in the world to see this happen. To see all the hard work that everyone has given, all that time, effort, and trust, and their little world starts to expand beyond you.

Expands beyond you.

For my children, they don’t understand language the way most kids do. I watched a video log from this health coach I follow, and he’s got his little girl in it. She’s looking up, all fourteen months of extreme cuteness, and he says, “Where’s the airplane?”

She points and after a minute says, “There, there.”

In a way, I felt like crying because I’d never experienced this. I’ve never seen, or really, heard, what it sounds like to have a baby learn to talk. Of course, I showed this video to Sean and he just snorted and said, “That was barely a ‘there.”

I’m human, though. I got a twinge of jealousy, but then it passed because our journey, and the connection I’ve had with my kids, is amazing.

Try looking at it from their point of view:

They don’t understand what everyone around them is saying. It’s not because they physically can’t (for mine, anyway). They hear the words, they get bits and pieces, but the world is talking so fast, the kids their age aren’t talking clearly (cause again, those guys are just learning too), and no one has the patience to let them figure out what the heck they’re saying or what they want them to do.

Overwhelming, isn’t it?

Scary too, huh?

Everyone around you talking in a foreign language and you’re only grasping at a few words here and there.

It’s no surprise that my kids have relied on me a lot longer than most. When they were babies and just learning to walk, they looked to me, their mother, to help them navigate the world. To feed them and clothe them, sure, but also to comfort and deal with those very BIG toddler emotions. Imagine, wanting this very specific toy or bowl for strawberries and not even being able to say, “no,” when it’s offered to you?

You have no words.

No way of communicating beyond your physical body. Especially when dealing those super-charged emotions.

Imagine too, when you hit three years old and you want to play with the other kids. You’re drawn to them. You want to run. You want to climb the tree just like everyone else and these kids say, “Oh no! She’s climbing too. You can’t come up here. Go away!”

Talk about confusing.

And really, really sad.

I’ve had to be beside Kate, to help her navigate this, to help her understand with my one and two words, and to sooth her frustration and sometimes hurt feelings. And me, not being able to explain why they don’t want to play with her. Or why, even though she saw a boy throw sand at someone, that we don’t do this. That it hurts people.

And yet… we did.

And as Kate’s world slowly expanded, as I gave her the time and she grew beyond me. As she matured, her trust in me and language grew. Her receptive language, meaning her understanding of the words, picked up and she had an easier time playing with friends and understanding them. She still needs me, but… she’s also relying and learning from others.

Others that she trusts.

What does this look like?

When a friend, who I hadn’t seen in over six months, came over with her two kids, and they wanted my friend to read a book. And it was Kate, the girl who would slam the book shut whenever I tried (for four freakin’ years) to read aloud to her, who repeated almost everything. The words and the sounds.

My jaw about hit the floor.

Or while at another friend’s house for a birthday party, Kate comes down the stairs, gently touches a mom on the hand and says, “help me.” Then Kate was able to communicate, with gestures and pointing and maybe some words, what she needed.

Or, while at our Nature Play Friday with a homeschool mom, Kate was repeating her words. And this mom’s way of talking wasn’t my way. She didn’t know about the whole recasting thing where you repeat or say one or two words more. She was just talking. And Kate was just repeating.

And enjoying every moment of it.

I even heard the absolute success of another late-talker, a child who really is Kate’s identical twin in temperament, and how her aunt decided to stick post-it notes around the house with words on them. You wouldn’t believe that this beautiful, stubborn little girl is now loving it, going around and saying these words. And spelling them out, with her little word magnets and stickers, surprising the heck out of her mom whenever she walks in the room and sees a word like “planet” or all the way “xylophone” (and not kidding, spell checker corrected that one for me).

It’s like, as our late-talkers gain confidence and trust in themselves and their language, they start stepping beyond us parents. They look to other adults who they trust and who they’re comfortable with… and they start learning. And because these adults aren’t us, they’re don’t do things the way we would.

Just like the aunt with the post-it notes.

Just like my friend reading the book, something I had long given up on because really… I love books and it was pretty darn hurtful when I was continually shut down when I tried. And Kate had made her point pretty clear that she didn’t like me reading to her. But I guess… it makes sense… see? Even I’m having a revolution right now. Books are about words, and words, for Kate, meant stress. She couldn’t enjoy them until recently, when she was better able to understand them.

Wow.

Who knew, right??

That’s what I mean. Expanding boundaries beyond ourselves as parents. Other people bring in new ideas and experiences, things that we never would have thought of. But of course, these are also parents who know our kids. They’re not some random half-relative on your mother’s side who you see twice a year for Christmas and then Easter (and then you try to get out of at least one of those). Just like a mom friend who suggested, after months of Eric waking up every 2-3 hours, to just put the kids in the same room since we were going to do it anyway. And really, it wasn’t like our sleep could get much worse. Might as well get it over with.

And you know what?

Eric is sleeping, six hour stretches (sometimes) with only waking up for a snuggle with me once or twice (sometimes — it’s still way better than before). Part of me is afraid to believe it. The other part of me is nodding because I know it feels right.

And it came from beyond me.

As I’m starting over on this late-talking journey with Eric, it’s been wonderful to share my growing perspective. I see how he doesn’t often respond to other moms, will sometimes turn when they call his name. He will with me… unless he’s ignoring me… unless he’s mentally engrossed into understanding how the wheels of that train function. His world is still very small, very focused in this smaller bubble around him while Kate’s has continued to grow and grow to the point where I’m confident she’s okay on her own. She doesn’t need me to watch as closely as I used too. She’s able to navigate her world and those in it much easier. She still needs me and I’m right there when she does.

For late-talkers, for many of them anyway (and remember, you and only you know your child best), I feel this is a very normal process. Now, I could totally be wrong for you and your kids, and I’m sure you have differences and challenges that I don’t, but overall, something about this just feels right in their development.

Give them the time, give them the patience and love, and see what happens.

Eric’s very attached to me right now, and I understand why. He’s unsure about this great, big world filled with people who speak a language he’s only learning and who talk to fast. He doesn’t need to move beyond me until he’s ready. I know he will be, one day. I saw it happen with Kate, saw how her world view slowly started to grow. First, with interest in playing with other kids, just running and laughing with them, to the day when she asked another mom for help, to recently asking where her friend was when they weren’t at the pool to go swimming.

With Eric, I see his interest in Kate growing. How he’ll play with her more or run and give her a big toddler hug from behind (until they both fall over and he decides he doesn’t like that anymore). How he’s super comfortable with dads but unsure about moms. Or how, just past Sunday the way he’d glance back at the two older kids pushing him in a swing with this utter and complete joy on his face as he laughed and laughed. He wanted to share that joy with them. It’s little moments like this that ease my heart.

This is our process, Eric’s and Kate’s, and we will get there.

They are both constantly teaching me new things. Just like other parents, as they enter into our lives and the world view of my kids, teach me new things as well.

New ways to respond to my kids.

New ways to expand past all of our boundaries and comfort zones.

New ways which we all can learn and can grow. And always, I follow at the pace and cues of my kids, and of myself. I’m learning to trust in myself and my feelings, when something feels right and when it doesn’t. In the same way how it feels right to let Kate’s continuing to grow beyond me, to push her boundaries further, while I allow Eric to stay as close as he needs.

Your way, your life and your kids, will be different from mine. Just like each of us will face our own unique challenges and successes, and that’s what makes our world so amazing.

For myself, I’ve chosen to listen to my kids and myself because listening just feels right.

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