Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Late speech

At our 15-month checkup last week, our new doctor expressed concern about River’s lack of speech. He says mama and dada, but not necessarily directed at the person. And he babbles. While Mark has been anxious about it lately, I wasn’t too worried. He is growing up bilingual after all, and he’s a boy. And, admittedly, except for skill in eating vast quantities and varieties of food, he hasn’t been ahead of the curve in beginning any of the physical skills.

But the doctor was concerned. She said he should know at least 2-5 words by now. She wants to monitor him and see more progress by his next appointment. She said if he’s not speaking by age two, she’ll refer him to a speech therapist. She told me we need to show him objects, teach him the body parts, ask him questions, communicate with him.

“He won’t pick it up on his own,” she said.

We are horrible, delinquent parents, I thought. Here is the effect of all the walks I take while listening to my ipod instead of pointing out every thing we pass. Here is the effect of Mark watching movies instead of communicating with River.

I walked home with River truly concerned that he was somehow lacking, somehow behind, that we hadn’t done a good enough job or that perhaps he’s behind the curve. I worried what the implications of late speech are. I know that late speech is the leading indicator of autism and that is what worries me most (and would understandably worry a doctor). But River is very social, very comfortable around a wide variety of people and very affectionate. Luckily, I don’t think he’s showing signs of autism.

So if it’s now autism, what’s the big deal about a delay? I went online and started to look. I was happy to find this reassuring article from Parenting magazine. It was helpful to learn that:
• 25% of kids are late speakers. One in every four is going to be behind the curve.
• Of those who are late speakers, many of them end up becoming very intelligent and accomplished, such as Einstein. And some of these people didn’t speak until age 3 or 4. We’re at only 15 months right now.
• Most late speakers catch up by age 2.5, so two and a half is considered the best time for speech therapy. So there doesn’t seem to be much reason to worry until 2.5. We’re only halfway there. He has a lot of time left.
• One reason for late speech can be a child focusing all their energies and attention on another new skill, such as walking. Since River began walking (after a long period of cruising) only a week or so before the doctor’s appointment, I think this reason might well apply to him.

We’re all trying to talk to River a bit more, to ask him more questions, to expose him to more materials. I’ve started letting him watch a 20 minute DVD of songs in Spanish once per day, as a way to focus on certain words. He does seem to be making a bit more progress. I’m trying to not compare him so much with other kids. I have now heard, independently, from parents in two different countries (Israel and Canadians in Russia) the following statement:

“We’re so glad we had a boy first. Otherwise, we would have thought he was retarded.”

Their girls developed so much faster than their boys did. We do know of boys who are more verbal than River but we’re learning that comparisons don’t work very well.

Most of all, we’re going to relax and allow him to develop as his organism seems fit. I’m getting a bit tired of pressure to demonstrate abilities at this early age.

Did anyone else have late speaking babies? How did things turn out?

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