Last summer I wrote a about my 20-month-old son's inability to talk. Clearly, he could hear, communicate and understand. Apprehensive to start fixing what ain't broken, I didn't want to start speech therapy too soon.
I invited readers to weigh in. Several comments were similar to what most friends and family told me: he'll talk when he's ready. I was surprised how many people had experiences like mine with their own children.
Yet, two readers, Lori and Sandy, made the most sense to me. They said in essence, get an evaluation; what could it hurt? My insurance covered it, so I did.
My pediatrician recommended a woman whom I have heard is the gold standard when it comes to speech therapists in the area. She has been around a long time, and has a particular expertise in the youngest of children. My son, Liam, took to her right away.
Immediately, she was able to assess that on the left side of his mouth, the muscles were underdeveloped. He was having problems with the separation of the tongue from his lip and mandible. His breathing was not conducive to forming sounds.
Huh. That was a lot for me to digest. She pointed out certain things, such as his chewing patterns. Also, he tended to inhale, but didn't really blow out, preventing him from F, P and B sounds. We have had success with instruments such as a melodica, recorder and harmonica to get him to breathe correctly.
We've been going to speech therapy every other week for the past few months. Turns out, he's been talking in two to three word sentences. We just couldn't understand him. Although he still has a ways to go, every once in a while he hollers out something clear as a bell. When his favorite baseball buddy arrived, he yelled out "uncle Joe!" with great excitement.
Part of the issue, too, with Liam's age is getting him to repeat on command. Connecting the brain to the speech is part of the process. Now 25 months old, he gets frustrated and wants to quit if he thinks he can't say the word perfectly. Perseverance and not letting him off the hook easily is a fine line to walk with a toddler.
After watching him the past months, I can see huge progress. Family and friends have commented how much he has improved. I am convinced that early intervention was the right move.
In anticipation of this column, I asked the therapist, "Why are we doing this?" She offered great insight. First, she said that if this weren't absolutely necessary for Liam, she wouldn't be having him back. I respect that. Secondly, she said that in all her years working with kids in schools, she has been able to track kids who did and who did not receive speech therapy.
She said that young children who are not treated early do not grow out of the problem. The problem continued to varying degrees even later in their adolescence.
She gave me an example of a girl who didn't talk until four. As a result, she had problems relating to people conversationally. She experienced social implications the rest of her life. Similarly, a friend told me he didn't talk until he was about four or five. To this day, he has a very subtle lisp.
I can relate to that. When I was a child, I was diagnosed in first grade as having a speech impediment. I couldn't pronounce the letter R. People thought I was saying Ellen, not Erin when they asked my name.
It wasn't until fifth grade that the school started me in speech therapy. I had never outgrown the problem. Liam's therapist is right.
Having a speech issue manifests itself in other ways as well. Liam started biting his nails, as did I. His therapist explained that's part of the oral fixation. I went on to smoke a pack of Marlboro lights a day in college. Hopefully, addressing Liam's issues will prevent him from going on the patch umpteen times like I did.
On the other hand, my ability to practice sounds has helped me excel in language. Although I speak broken French and Italian, I am often told my accent is surprisingly native.
In addition to the benefits of therapy for Liam and his progress, as mom, I'm getting a lot out of it, too. I watch him process as the wheels turn in his head. I see the smoke as he thinks. It's quite remarkable.
He has an unusual ability to calm himself down when he gets overwhelmed. I can see how our parenting style is impacting his ability to learn outside the home. This is extraordinarily rewarding for me.
Yes, I have been won over. I am now a true believer in early intervention with speech therapy. I believe it will help Liam mitigate the terrible two's.
Some parents may want to wait until a kid is ready to talk on his own. Not me. It's the same as waiting until after he can hit it out of the park before I pitch him the ball. Just like I help him with all the other things he struggles with, so am I going to help him with speech.