My baby boy is now seven but when he was still a diaper wearing person who toddled more than walked, he had some serious speech delays. Then he stopped toddling and picked up a big boy gait, and he still had serious speech delays.
I should have seen it coming. We were very familiar with speech therapists already. His older brother (Middle boy) has a metabolic disorder that left in its wake a pretty nasty case of low muscle tone. It showed up first in his shoulders, trunk and hips. Just when our great pediatric physical therapist was getting him back on track, we realized he was talking a lot...but not really saying anything.
The muscle weakness had settled in his jaw, lips and tongue too. So then we began our years of hanging out in speech therapist's offices.
By the time Baby boy was born his big brother was speaking well and on the fast track to normal speech.
I assumed I knew what to look for, in New Babys speech development, since Middle boy's speech therapist had become one of my best friends in MO. (we did spend a lot of time together...more than I spent with any 'regular' friends... and we were both passionate about my sweet boy... there's nothing more bonding than someone loving your kid almost as much as you do)
So when we made the big move to D.C. and Baby boy continued to be an easy going toddler, I was not concerned. I was watching for 'mushy speech' and I was not hearing it. I was watching for mispronounced words and I was not hearing any.
That was the problem. I wasn't hearing anything. My Baby was mute.
Not exactly mute. He made sounds. But nothing close to language.
It was when he had passed his second birthday and I realized he had never said the word 'NO!" that I became alarmed. What two year old (or eighteen month old, for that matter?) has not pounded his fist on the highchair tray and yelled NO! in the middle of dinner??
I should have noticed it earlier. But I was watching for zebras, and antelopes showed up. Plus we had just packed up our four young children, all born in MO, and moved them from the only city they had ever lived in, plunking them down in the middle of the metropolis of Washington D.C. (just months after 9/11, mind you)
There was a lot of unpacking and signing up for schools, and figuring out the metro lines stuff going on. The fact Baby boy was quiet was not noticed because he was...well...quiet. The squeaky wheel thing and all that.
So suddenly I noticed and found the box with the address book in it so I could call best friend speech therapist back in MO. She confirmed my concerns and advised I get on the case immediately.
So Baby boy began his own journey with speech therapists. But this time we were not working on blowing bubbles and cotton balls to get stronger lips. We were working on finding sounds to make into words.
We had been doing baby signs with him and they became his life saver. He could express, through basic signs, what he wanted. I was introduced to the amazing Signing Time videos, which were brand new, and became friends with their founder. They helped our whole family, including grandparents, understand how to communicate with Baby boy.
But part of the problem with having no speech as a one, then two, then three year old, is not being able to express how you feel. There were no constant questions through the grocery store, like his siblings had done. There was no discussing the best and favorite desires for Christmas that year. The basic needs were communicated but I missed knowing what my Baby was thinking.
Then one day, after months and months of speech therapy, the language started to come. Slowly, slowly we built up words into sentences and Baby boy started to realize he could talk. He could ask questions and state his feelings. And it was fun to see what he had been carrying around inside that head all those quiet months.
One of my favorite moments came when he had become this tall, confident three year old. He sidled up to the counter and asked for a bowl of breakfast cereal. "Me want cee-yal, mama".
And as I poured out the frosted flakes and slopped on the milk my Baby boy looked up to me and said, oh so seriously, "Where we get dees bowls, mama?"
All those months of silence and my boy had been wondering where I'd gotten the bowls.
It makes me wonder what else he had been wondering, that he never got to ask.
I met with his school speech therapist today and he is right on track. He will still receive services through the summer and then into second grade, but most people who do not know him would ever notice anything abnormal about his speech. We feel blessed to have been able to shower him with the best specialists in every city we've lived in.
But there are days, if I let myself think about his early years, that I wonder about my boy. I wonder what treasures he was carrying around in that creative mind of his that he never had the chance to share. I'm sure there were more things he wondered and worried about but was not able to tell us.
But I'm glad he made peace finally, with where we got the bowls.