I feel a need to clarify the language delay of my son Amos, who at two-and-a-half years old, is still unable to find his words. It’s true, many parents often struggle to understand the babbling rants of their growing toddlers. But Amos’ speech delay runs a little deeper than that. He never cooed as a baby, babbled consonants, said “Da-da”, or shouted indecipherable strings of syllables into the air. And at nearly three, he still does not have the abundance of words expected by now — 200, according to the baby books.
Amos has precisely five words: hi, mama, up, more, eat and hop. He can also nod his head yes, and shake it no.
But although he has a handful of things he can say, he cannot talk in the way that we define language. And while I’m thankful for his efforts, I’m still left feeling desperate to help him and understand the language he offers.
That is the part I struggle with most now — two specific areas of concern other than the fact that his vocabulary is hundreds of words behind. One, he can say words but doesn’t or can’t use them in order to meet his own needs. Language is made up of words that should be put together for a purpose, but he does not naturally do this on his own, and so with every bite I make him say “more.” Every time I gather his warm body from the crib, I remind him to offer “up.” Each time we read Brown Bear, we look at the frog and I wait. After some silence, I ask him what the frog does and he remembers, and his body moves up and down as he gleefully espouses, “hop, hop, hop.” I am trying so hard to instill the notion that words get you what you need and what you want. And yet, progress is slow.
Still, there are microscopic successes I celebrate. Occasionally now he has come to me and signed “eat,” so he can have more cereal.
Our other difficulty is related to the words that he does try to say and there are more and more of these or really this act. His intonations are incredibly accurate for “Wheels on the Bus” or “Patty Cake,” yet not one word is decipherable. Instead, it sounds like someone is speaking to you with their mouth tightly closed. He is saying what I request of him, and yet all I hear is something that resembles humming, in a variety of different pitches.
Amos can talk if you consider the fact that he is trying — trying so hard — to mimic the sounds and the shape of my mouth or those of the speech therapists, who have worked with him diligently over a year now, several days per week. He can now round his lips around a straw without always leaking fluid, and he can even emit a quiet sound if he blows a baby’s musical instrument. Not the long blast we expect, but a soft audible intermittent sound, the force of air a struggle we have been working on since this past fall. He still can not blow a bubble.
The last struggle worth noting is the toughest. My own worries about his lack of words pales in comparison to my concern for his own growing frustration. It has been an undocumented part of the process, but it’s growing more powerful as the days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months. The word he always says when I place him in the playground swing … well, I don’t know what it is. Every single time he says it the exact same way and yet, I stumble and can not decipher it. Is it out? No. Is it up? No. Is it higher? No. My ignorance fuels his annoyance, and soon the tantrum will begin and he will end up laying on the ground, crying, and kicking and I feel like crap. I don’t know what to do, other than to give him and myself a few minutes, and then try to pick him up again.
My efforts to appease him are rarely successful these last few weeks, though. That act of kindness on my behalf is met with furious disdain, and as he grows older he cannot be fooled with a cuddle or a favorite snack. I’m so happy that he is making this connection, but I wonder how his brain is affected from often not having his needs met. Basic needs or complex needs, I sometimes have no idea. And I can’t help but think of the children who spend their early years in an orphanage being ignored, talking and yet no one is listening. Does my Amos feel the same way? Each day is a struggle, yet there is so much joy there, as well.
We step forward — one foot in front of the other — and we shall continue to fight for the words that have not come, and the voice that longs to escape.More On