Friends, throughout the course of my life, I have engaged with countless children. I’ve taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School classes since I was 17. I’ve worked in a preschool. I’ve babysat the littles of friends and family. I have three children of my own. All that said, I can honestly say that I have never met a child in my life that talks as much as my son, Jaxon.
The kid is rarely silent.
He talks about movies, Minecraft, outer space, God, how fast he is, asks how old _______ will be when he is _______, and tells me he loves me five million times a day. Nothing is off limits for this boy once he gets comfortable with you, and he talks about something nonstop. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me, but sometimes it’s absolutely exhausting (especially when I’m in the car. I cannot handle it in the car–that’s sacred time for me 😂).
To have a child like Jaxon makes it especially difficult to have a child like Scarlett. Scarlett is finally able to communicate slightly…and I mean slightly. She can answer yes or no questions most of the time, but there are times where I ask her something that I know the answer to, and she gives me the opposite response. So her yes/no is fairly accurate, but not bulletproof. She also can tell me she wants to sing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, by smiling, pointing at her dimples, and dancing (and friends, I die when she does it, it’s the cutest thing ever). Anything outside of these two things are basically done on a case-by-case basis, through whatever means necessary.
She has a decent number of words (about 15), but only a few are functional (“no” and “stop”, for example). Most of her vocabulary consists of exclamations (“look”, “oh no!”, “uh-oh”, etc), and while so cute to hear, are not terribly helpful for functional communication.
If you go to school for speech pathology, early childhood education, or some other related field, they teach you that at two, a child should have a decently large vocabulary, be learning several new words a day, attempting to imitate a word if prompted, and starting to combine 2-word sentences. Scarlett does none of these, and that is hard for me. It is hard for me to know that Scarlett is severely delayed in an area that is so important in every aspect of life.
She had a speech evaluation done a few weeks ago, and her deficit was made quite clear. I’ve said it before, but you can know that your child is behind without actually understanding just how much. When you go in for an evaluation and you get the report, it’s right there in black and white. There is no more guessing or knowing-whilst-not-actually-knowing. Scarlett’s total language score sat somewhere in the 12-16 month range (the exact score given in her report was not correct so I don’t have the exact age, we’re waiting for a revised report). More upsetting than that, though, (since I already had a ballpark idea of that due to her past HELP assessments) was her auditory comprehension score– or, her ability to understand what people say. Scarlett scored at the level of an 8-month old.
That, friends, was rough. It’s been difficult for me to accept the fact that there are a lot of things that I say to my child that she likely doesn’t understand.
Does she understand when I tell her she’s okay after she falls and gets hurt? Does she understand me when I leave her somewhere safe, and tell her I’ll be back soon? Does she understand when she’s scared, and I tell her it’s going to be okay? Does she understand me when I tell her I love her?
Friends, I know that there are non-vocal ways to relay all of the scenarios I listed above– but the fact that I am (for now) unable to reassure my child verbally is difficult. Thus is the half of the plight of parenting a child with a speech delay. It is difficult to realize that the little things that people say or do to encourage, help, show affection to, or validate someone are lost on your child.
On a more lighthearted note, communicating with a speech-delayed child can also make you feel a little OCD at times. The therapy idea is to repeat a word three times for proper object label reinforcement. For example, if I am trying to teach Scarlett that a cup is a cup, when she’s ready for a drink, I’d hold one up and say something like, “this is a cup. Would you like the cup? I will give you the cup”. It’s a little bit exhausting to try and come up with three different ways to use the same word! You eventually begin to feel a little crazy and like your entire world revolves around the number three.
Anyway, moving on.
Most parents have a general idea of when their child will talk. Most children say their first words around 12months(ish). Some sooner, some later, but 12 months is average (PSA: friends, your child was not saying mama or dada at 4 months. Syllable repetition is normal early sound/speech development, but your child has no association of what that word means. If they do, call someone, because you have birthed the next Einstein). You know that around 12 months when your child says mama/dada, they know who you are, what your label is, and that they have a relationship with you. You can know that somewhere around two(ish), you are likely going to hear your child say I love you (or some version of it), if that is a phrase commonly said in your household. The parent of a speech-delayed child has no idea when these things will be said, and for some, these momentous milestones will never come. The uncertainty is a heavy burden to bear.
Again, obviously there are other ways a child can convey the above sentiments– but friends, words carry immense power. Every parent has days where you wonder why on earth God thought you were qualified to be responsible for such precious little souls– and if you’re reading this and you don’t feel that way sometimes, please, message me your secrets! There are days where I feel like I am the WORST mother– and somehow, those are always the days my kids humble me by saying I’m their best friend, or their favorite mama, or that they love me six billion-seventy four-twelve-five-ten-three hundred (Jaxon’s new thing). They tell me on the most routine, boring days that it was the best day ever. I think these tiny things are God’s way of reminding me that I am not messing up my children to epic proportions, and to give myself some grace every now and then– as well as serving as a reminder to check my heart (thanks, John Crist) and attitude. It is hard to know that for the foreseeable future, my child will be unable to communicate verbally to tell me that I’m doing an okay job, and that my actions will not cause her to end up in weekly therapy as an adult.
*Please don’t misunderstand: I know my child does not resent me. Sometimes, though, the mind of a parent of a speech-delayed child (and a parent in general) is not rational. It’s just a thing.
All of this said: a child with a speech delay is likely to become a master of non-verbal communication. Whether their point-game is on point (see what I did there?), they have the ability to utilize ASL, or they make you become the world record holder for the longest game of, “oh, do you want _______”– they will compensate somehow for their lack of ability to speak.
It’s here that I am going to insert my “here’s what you should do” bit. If you know a speech-delayed child– get involved in trying to learn their non-verbal cues. Ask their parent(s) how they communicate and try and interact with them on their terms. The biggest thing though, is to celebrate the tar out of their speech milestones! I can guarantee you that us parents LIVE for every new word, for every new sound, and for every moment our children are able to verbally communicate an idea/need (even if it’s only through one word). Celebrate the little victories, friends, because for a parent of a speech-delayed child, every small victory is a big one.
To my fellow parents of speech-delayed children, I salute you: