My toddler has a motor speech delay. He’s been working with an amazing speech therapist for about four months now. My guess is that we’ll continue to make that weekly appointment for at least another year. Unless we need to step it up to twice a week which we might need to do. We don’t know yet.
These kind of speech delays are difficult to diagnose in little kids, and they can manifest differently for each individual child. Don’t Google motor speech delay (I did, and it was a mistake). A motor speech delay for my toddler means that he has a very hard time forming syllables that other kids seem to naturally voice. He has to look at my mouth when he’s trying to imitate me, and then he has to concentrate really hard to make his mouth do what his brain is telling him. It’s hard work. His vocal substitutions aren’t the usual ones that kids make and don’t make a lot of logical sense. He uses one ‘word’ to signify almost all other words regardless of what they sound like (‘da-da’ means ketchup, waffles, firetruck, and turkey). We are working to give him new and consistent motor maps for his mouth. His therapist gives him physical cues to make sounds, like touching his nose for the nasal n sound. He doesn’t seem to have any other challenges that delayed speech often signifies. He’s making improvements, but it’s slow going and no matter how fun we try to make it, it’s not super fun for any of us. One day this will be behind us.
Please note: This is not the time to tell me that your cousin’s neighbor’s roommate had a kid who didn’t say a word until he was three and he turned out ok, and don’t tell me about Einstein, and don’t tell me about how boys develop more slowly than girls and how he’ll talk when he’s ready. I appreciate so much that your words are coming from a place of love and reassurance, but 47 other people have already told me that. And it sounds sweet but…dismissive and like I shouldn’t be worried about something that I am worried about and like I don’t know my own kid.
I know he will learn to talk. I am certain of it. It’s just going to be more work than we thought. In the scheme of things this is a itty-bitty, teeny-tiny deal — I know parents and children who have lives full of appointments on top of appointments and daily therapies, and THEY ARE MY HEROES because just this one appointment each week in addition to the accompanying stress and all the other commitments that we have is about all I can manage. Maybe that says a lot about what I can manage. And what my priorities are. Sigh.
Here’s something embarrassing: when we’re out at the playground and other parents ask me how old my toddler is, I think about lying. He’s 25 months, but I want to say that he’s much younger. His gross motor skills are tops, so he seems older until he opens his mouth and a stream of incomprehensible sounds come out. Other kids his age are putting together sentences and saying “dinosaur”. At his age, my daughter was singing songs with lyrics. “He just turned two,” I say, “He doesn’t have a lot of words.”
I’m an introvert. I like quiet. But my work-life has been almost exclusively about talking. I’m an actor and a director; I have a podcast; in my long-ago life, I spoke with college-students about career counseling, and individuals about journaling, and I’ve led workshops for hundreds of people. Even the writing that I’ve done has been with oral speech in mind — as a playwright writing for performance or a poet writing to be read aloud. How can I have a kid who can’t speak and be understood?
After blaming my old eggs and ancient uterus (see: Advanced Maternal Age) and wondering if I’ve been too lax with this second-and-final child (maybe I should have pushed him more, talked to him more, given him more attention and vegetables), I’ve settled on “SCREW IT!” (well, a more profane version). Screw it, who cares why. Screw it, this is small potatoes. Screw it, we can handle this. Screw it, this is what we’ve got. This is who we got — a really wonderful wouldn’t-trade-him-for-anything sweet little stinker — and this is what we’re dealing with. And aren’t we lucky? We really are. Honest to God, he’s about as cute as can be.
Communicating with my toddler is a full body experience. He acts out what he’s trying to say with his body, so most conversations are like playing charades with a two-year old. He uses sign language, facial expression, pitch and tone to convey what he means. Often, he’ll take my hand (or anyone’s hand!) and physically move us to see what he wants to ‘talk’ about. And when he finally loses his patience after I can’t understand him over and over and over, he screams at the top of his lungs in frustration….and gets over it. He moves onto something else.
Obviously, this blog post is me screaming….and getting over it and moving on to something else.
Of all the people in my toddler’s world, I am the one who understands him the best. That is special. I’m grateful for it. I spend the most time with him, but I also listen to him the hardest… the most carefully. So yesterday when he finally said ‘boo’ for blue, instead of ‘bow’ and instead of ‘da-da’ and instead of ‘uhhhh’ — I HEAR it. I hear him, and we both rejoice. ‘Boo’ is on the right track to blue.
It’s the little victories, right? Boo never sounded so good.