My Second Journey with a Late-Talker

 

That’s right. I don’t just have one but two late-talkers.

Talk about a roll of the dice, right?

Now, to be honest, this isn’t an easy thing for me to write about. I’m sure those of you who’ve read my blog for awhile have picked up on the fact that I don’t talk about Eric and his language a whole lot. And there’s a good reason for it, and I’m gonna try and describe it as a fiction writer.

When I come up with some new story idea, or some new character or world, I never talk about it. With anyone. And the reason for that is simple:

My subconscious is playing with this idea, it’s creating a story that’s completely my own. I don’t want anyone else’s input. I don’t want to know what they think would be cool or neat, because that could either come in and taint my slowly bubbling story or… it’ll piss off my inner-storyteller, which will straight up shut the whole thing down.

I protect these developing stories. I protect all of my work-in-progresses. At this point, I don’t want anyone’s input. At least, not until it’s finished.

Now switching back to Eric.

I haven’t talked much about him, with the exception of teething and poop complaints, certainly not about his speech, because Eric has been that developing story. I wanted him to have a blank page for as long as possible, a chance to grow and be who he is, without anyone adding in their two-cents or judgments. And not that those people could affect him, but they could affect me and my thoughts.

Now I’m going to slide right in and say quickly (before people jump in and call me an irresponsible parent): both our pediatrician and our speech pathologist, Mary Camarata, were involved and right there with us in regards to Eric. They’ve also been onboard with our choice to wait and support Eric, in the best way we could. I have been working with Eric, to help build the foundations he needs for language, for a good six months now, doing what little toddlers love most: physical play with momma.

One reason I’m very sensitive to this stage, this movement from babyhood to toddler to little boy, is because I remember, very clearly, the dark, scary black hole I was in when Kate was this age (and honestly, she was even a little older). It was that moment where we recognized she wasn’t “normal” with her language and understanding of it… yet, what they were saying about her was so very, very wrong. We know it, as parents. That they were only seeing a small side of who she was and we were already being shoved and pushed in a direction we weren’t okay with. And let’s not forget how those people would look at us, her parents, and how I could feel their judgment. We were the ones in denial. We were the ones who were wrong about Kate.

Even now just thinking this is enough to make my skin crawl and for tears to come to my eyes. No parent should ever have those said about their child. Ever. Certainly not when the parent believes, with her whole heart, that those people were wrong, that her daughter was a healthy and whole person, but just different.

A different way of learning.

A different way of living.

A different way of being living with the world.

So, I kept quiet about Eric. To the moms and friends we saw regularly I would tell them, “I don’t know if he’s going to be a late-talker or not. We’ll wait and see.”

And each one of them accepted that.

Frankly, I think they understood that I sure knew a heck of a lot more about kids and talking, and they completely trusted in me and decisions about Eric.

They believed in us.

Not to mention, all you have to do is look at Kate now, compared to a year ago, and I’ve got walking, talking proof that what we’re doing is working for us. And we’re committed to seeing this through. We’re committed to being engaged, to following our children’s lead especially when it doesn’t follow the traditional styles of most therapist. (For example, if your child isn’t an imitator naturally, don’t be shocked when that child doesn’t follow along when said therapist tries to get them to say, “more,” or heck, even form that m sound with the mouth upon command. And with my two kids? Sorry. Not gonna happen.)

Up until now, Eric was still fitting into the normal range for speech development. Especially for a boy and a second child. Even with the few words he had (when he deemed he wanted to even say them), he was still hitting that range.

And we were just fine to give him that time, with no pressure. After all, we knew from experience that pressure and worrying and living with fear didn’t work with Kate, there was certainly not reason to start with Eric. Especially for as young as he was.

You see, I know of many parents whose young children, from as young as fourteen months, are already in speech therapy. This is not to say these children shouldn’t be in therapy or that that therapy wouldn’t help them. I’m certainly not qualified to say that, and I’m certainly not qualified to say that about your child. What gets me, personally, is I often hear a child is in therapy because they aren’t talking yet. There’s not some straight-up medical reason or an actual defined need for the therapy. And I’m also not saying the parents aren’t wrong for choosing this, or the medical professionals. They’re concerned. They don’t know what’s going on. Heck, we did private speech therapy with Kate for six months before realizing, in her case, it was just throwing money down the drain. Because every family is different. Every child is different.

But… to be honest… it breaks my heart that speech therapy, for simply not yet talking, is being pushed on kids so young. To me, this feels wrong. (Again, those are my feelings and no judgment is made on anyone who chooses differently. For me, this feels like another piece of our culture, this pushing to be like everyone else, to all fit in the same box, that I’m disappointed in.)

What happened to just letting kids grow at their own pace and develop? What happened to just letting them follow their own path?

Well, Sean and I have a therapy about this, about getting kids ready for school at earlier and earlier ages, to the point that if you’ve got a two-year-old the next question usually is: when are they going to start preschool? But that’s really not the post I’m writing today. What I want to say here is that almost weekly, I’m meeting someone (or a family member or a friend has), who, while just going about their day, meets another who’s grandchild or who’s own child, is a late-talker. A child who, 30 years ago, didn’t start talking until he was four or five. My mother-in-law just told me this story yesterday at the bank, when she met two people who had late-talkers. Two. One who’s daughter was only three, and another older lady who’s son was 20+ years.

These kiddos are a lot more in number than we know, a lot more too (for whatever reason) than the medical community is letting us in on. Maybe because it’s easy to forget that struggle, that waiting and wondering, for those handful of early years. Maybe it’s a relief too, on the behalf of parents, to simply forget this phase and move on when the kids finally do start talking.

But know: you are not alone.

And neither is your kid. Really.

Eric literally just turned two, and if you haven’t gathered yet, both Sean and I have resolved to trust in our kids. To give them time.

We did that. Even when Eric started hitting his age milestones with no words (or a sporadic one or two), we choose to give him time. To not rush or worry or push.

Oh we helped him. We played physical games and focused on his visual referencing with us to continue those games and oh my, the growth for that alone compared to when we first started is amazing. It’s also another reason of why I’m not worried. Because this is one of those important little pieces that needs to be in place before language can ever happen.

It’s there.

Eric needs to care what I think (which is why he’ll look up when he sees or does something fun or cool). He needs to look at me because I’m the reason those blankets go super-fast on the floor while he gets the coolest ride ever.

Language, truly, is invisible, at least the acquiring of it. There are so many little pieces that need to be there, things that you never notice as a parent because it’s just a natural flow between parent and child. You notice when they aren’t there because things feel different and silted, that they simply don’t feel right. I can happily say that all those things are there for Eric.

Supposedly there’s a 1 and 10 chance that Eric would be a late-talker like his sister, but when I mentioned this to Sean he kind of snorted and said, “I think it’s a lot higher than that. We’re still the same parents.”

And our kids came from us.

(And if you know us, having two kids who don’t think talking is super important isn’t a huge surprise.)

But still, we now know for sure that Eric’s phonological sounds are immature for his age. He’s not as precise and articulate with his sounds, and of course, his expressive is also delayed (this is the actually ‘talking’ part of language and since he’s not talking yet, it’s no surprise that he falls into this category). Keep in mind too, that Mary Camarata waited until he was two before even making this call. She was completely comfortable giving him the time and as she said to me on more than one occasion, “You’re already doing everything you can.”

I was.

I still am.

And… Mary’s prognosis is not surprising to me either. I mean, I’ve watched other boys near Eric’s age, I can hear how they talk and respond to their moms (or me, for that matter). They’re understanding of language… it’s different than Eric’s. I can recognize that, and I’m sure some people are jumping out of their seats demanding to why I haven’t gotten him “help.” (See my mention earlier: I was already doing everything I could without pushing or demanding).

Here’s the real funny part: from when Eric was a baby Sean and I weren’t concerned about his talking. Nope. Not a bit. It wasn’t until he was about… 14-15 months that we started to notice some changes, that he went from babbling like crazy, to a quieter child.

Why weren’t we worried?

Well, as a baby, he’d babbled more at four months than Kate had her whole life. Opening his mouth and making sound come out was not his problem. In fact, Eric’s been right there the whole time on Kate’s journey. When we did have private speech therapy, more often than not, Eric was right there during the sessions. The therapist got to see and hear Eric. There was no flags or concerns. Nothing. Even Mary Camarata got to hear and see Eric in the videos with Kate for a year.

But as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten quieter. And it wasn’t like he’d never said a word (his first word was “hi” and then, “this,” and then “what’s this”) but like Kate, those words sort of… went away.

He stopped using them.

We don’t know why Eric stopped making his sounds. We don’t know why he focused less attention on language because we can’t get a crystal ball to peer into his little mind. It’s possible he focused on visual learning at some point and only recently has he started thinking about sounds. But we do know that he’s very similar to Kate, that there’s this piece missing… this trust in language. He’s hesitant to make the sounds.

And truly, he is so very blessed to have us are parents. Because we get him. We’ve been down this road with Kate. We know what to do. We know how to help him. We know, better than anyone, that the most important thing is for him to feel comfortable with language and sounds.

To trust in language.

To trust in us.

Now, my two kids are still very different. They have very different personalities, but I’m pretty darn hopeful and confident. All I have to do is watch a video from Kate a year ago, when she was barely saying anything, to today when she holds out her hand and says, “Give me high five!” (I’ll add to… I did not teach this to her. It was a dear friend who did.)

Heck, she’s even going up to kids at playgrounds and saying, “Hi! Hi! What do here?”

That is a great deal of trust in language, know what I’m saying?

Our goal with Kate was to teach her that language was safe. That she was safe when she did choose to make sounds and open her mouth.

So yeah, I’ve got another road ahead of me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a little disappointed because, well, having a child with a language delay is no cake-walk and it sure would have been nice if one of my kids fell into that “normal” developing category.

But they didn’t.

And that’s okay. I know what to do. I’ve got the help and support behind us. I know I won’t be falling into that scary black-hole of fear and depression this time around. It’s going to be a lot of work, heck, it’s still a lot of work with Kate, but we’re in a really good place.

I’m still sensitive to Eric and his developing little pace, especially since because there’s still a whole lot up in the air with him. Again, he’s just too young to do any kind of testing, even nonverbal testing. He’s also crazy stubborn. So… if someone out there is reading this and you feel the need to start giving me your opinions or judgments or what you think of Eric.

Yeah.

Don’t want to hear it.

All I want to hear, all I want to focus on, is Eric’s thoughts on Eric.

It’s going to be a different journey than Kate because he’s Eric. Heck, even Mary made the comment that those cute Calico Critters, something that were a huge breakthrough for Kate, aren’t going to do it for him.

I’m going to listen, with my full heart and soul, to him. To who he is and how I can help him.

And that’s why I know we’ll be okay. That’s why, even if this is work (and it sure would have been nice to not worry about it with one of my kids), we’ll come out this better than okay. Because I’m willing to trust in Eric.

I’m willing to let him take me on his journey… his, and no one else’s.

 

Side note: One of my goals this year was to make this a weekly blog. I still may not be getting much sleep due to stupid teething (thanks, Eric) and I still may not be back to fiction writing, but I am writing these blogs. So check back every Thursday for a blog post about being a parent-writer or a parent of a late-talker, cause man do I got a lot to say about both these days!

And one day… dear lord I hope it’s soon… I’ll be sleeping again. Even a little bit. I’d totally take a little.

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