At his 15-month appointment, the pediatrician asked us how many words he can say. “Three,” we replied. Even then, worry flickered in my mind because 1) he doesn’t really say those three words that often, 2) he doesn’t say it very clearly, and 3) it’s been the same three words for a while now, with no new ones developing. Still, she assured us that three words is fine, but that the norm is three to ten words at this age. Ten?! And that at 18-months the norm is to say 10 to 20 words. Twenty?!?!
The rest of the day, I kept pestering him to talk. Rather than me saying the word he’s pointing to, I would ask him, “What’s that?” He could sense my worry and agitation and of course got frustrated himself.
The next day, I took a step back and realized that nothing is going to be learned if he’s frustrated. If we want him to learn how to talk, the activities have to be challenging, yes, but fun. We researched several ways to encourage language, such as repetition and withdrawal. For repetition, I would empty out a box and place his blocks one by one inside, each time saying, “In.” He followed suit and would put his blocks in, and I would also say, “In.” There were a lot of “in”s for him to listen to. Then the idea is that he would hopefully fill in the blank. Or I would lift him up in my arms and say “Up!” After a while, I would stop and hope that he would say “up.”
We also do withdrawal techniques. One of the downsides of him being cared for one-on-one as opposed to a group setting like a day care or even with other siblings is that we, as the caregivers, almost always know what he wants. I know that when he reaches out his arm at a certain angle that he wants water. I don’t even say “water”; I just place his cup on his tray. Now, every time he wants something, I say the word at a minimum of three times before handing the item to him. For instance, I’ll say, “Do you want water? Look, it’s your water. Can you say water?” Then pause (to give him a chance to speak), and then hand it to him. I do this now with everything. It gets tiring and my voice is hoarse but it’s a way for him to ask for things and realize the importance of communicating with words.
I made a mistake yesterday when I was offering him his hat. I asked, “Can you say ‘hat’?” and kept repeating “hat” over and over again. Finally, he said, “Hhhaaaa…” which I realize now I should have clapped and given him his hat. Instead I was so excited and wanted him to say it again that I kept pestering him to say it. At that point, he just lost interest in the hat and moved away. Next time, any indication of word formation will elicit a positive response from me, even if it’s not an intentional or clear word.
We still have a long ways to go, but at least I know he understands us. His speech isn’t going to happen overnight but I hope he learns some clear words pretty soon.