Speech delay and the last time I worried

Flashback Friday: Speech delay and the last time I worried-bunch of bananas
When my little guy was a baby, we kept hearing from people, “Oh, he’s going to be an early talker, just listen to him babble!” And I proudly assumed the same until his 15-month appointment when his pediatrician asked the question that changed my mind: “How many words does he say?”

“Umm…” I stammered. “Maybe three?” I replied. Even after I said it I knew I wasn’t being completely accurate. His three words weren’t words so much as babbles. He would say “mamama…” but without any direct correlation to me (or anything else, really), but because it sounded close to “mama” I counted it as a word. The other two were just as incoherent. The pediatrician mentioned that most 18-month-olds say an average of 10 words, and that two-year-olds say an average of 50. When I couldn’t even coax three distinct words out of my toddler, I launched into full-on worry mode.

“What could be causing his delay?” my husband and I asked ourselves. First we considered the fact that our toddler was exposed to multiple languages. We mentioned this to his pediatrician, who reassured us that bilingualism only delays language skills by a month. Still, we were silly enough to go through his children’s songs and delete those that weren’t in English (I now wish I had a back up of “Frere Jacques” and “De Colores”!).

We also wondered whether baby sign language could be contributing to his delay. Long touted as a means to actually help children speak earlier, we now targeted baby sign language as a potential culprit for why our toddler wasn’t saying any words. “Maybe he got so used to signing ‘eat’ that he doesn’t need to say the word,” we wondered. But because we had heard so many positive associations with signing (and because it really did help our toddler communicate with us), we continued with baby signing.

I began to Google possible causes for speech delay (never Google anything while you are worried) and I came up with a slew of issues that I began to worry about. “Is he social enough?” “How come he prefers books nowadays instead of cuddling with us?” “Why doesn’t he smile as often as his little cousin?” And the questions went on and on.

The biggest detriment to worrying wasn’t even the needless headache I imposed on myself, nor the long hours of researching symptoms that my toddler hadn’t even been diagnosed with yet; it was my growing impatience and lack of faith in my toddler. The day we arrived home from the doctor’s appointment, I embarked on a mission to get my toddler talk. I held up a ball and made sure he was looking at me and said, “This is a BALL. Ball. Can you say ‘ball’? Say ‘ball’.” In more normal circumstances, these prompts are actually helpful; I am supposed to enunciate and tie the word to an item. But he sensed the worry in my voice, saw the impatience written all over my face, and reacted the way anyone would: he got frustrated.

That’s when I learned I needed to take a step back. I had to be his biggest advocate, not someone pressuring him to perform beyond his abilities. I needed to guide him through these exercises while respecting his learning curve. I’m thankful that I was able to see that early on because I would have hated to nag him and endure weeks and months of frustrating episodes all because of a worry.

We continued to work with him, and some of that Google research actually turned up pretty useful. We also spoke with early intervention therapists who, while we never actually ended up needing their services by the time his application was approved, still provided us with many tips on how to encourage speech. I pushed the worry aside and focused instead on encouraging my toddler in a positive way.

And one day, he did it. While eating bananas, he said, “Nana.” Leave it to my food-loving toddler to assign the beloved first word to a favorite fruit. The flow of new words suddenly erased all those months of worry. I wrote down his new words until the list grew too long and I stopped keeping count.

I remember that time and realize how needlessly I subjected myself to worry. This isn’t to say that I shouldn’t have been concerned, but pure concern simply means you do ABC to achieve XYZ. There are no cluttered thoughts poisoning the mind with what ifs that haven’t even happened. I learned to worry less—a lot less. Every subsequent issue that might have ensued similar worries have been dealt with more calmly and rationally since then.

After all, worry has never done me any good especially when all my toddler needed was some time and a little bit of help. So yes, I should have asked, “Can you say ‘ball’?” but with a smile, a pair of gentle eyes and a much more patient, encouraging and worry-free attitude.

How do you handle worries, especially with developmental milestones? Have your kids struggled with any kinds of delay?

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How my toddler is learning different languages

Hola kaibigan! How my toddler is learning different languages
This morning, my toddler was reading the Spanish translation of How to Catch a Star. He started moving his finger under the words and reading them out loud in “Spanish.” Unfortunately the words weren’t real Spanish words, but in his mind I’m sure it was—he even said them with a Spanish accént-o!

At two years old, my toddler speaks English and Tagalog and knows a lot of Spanish words. Even though my husband is Mexican and I’m Filipino, we’re terrible resources for languages because we don’t speak them often enough (and definitely not to each other). Instead, we rely on our families to expose him to different languages. My aunt (who watches LO when we’re in the office) speaks to him in Tagalog so he can speak and understand that language quite well. And when we’re at Grandma’s, my husband reminds his mom to speak to LO, “¡en español, por favor!”

We also borrow at least one Spanish book a week at the library that his dad reads to him (sadly there aren’t many Tagalog translations of popular children’s books). He may not follow the story as well, but we’re hoping that hearing the words will help him remember and understand them, especially in relation to the pictures he sees.

And we substitute words in English for Spanish and Tagalog. For instance, we say ibon for bird or gato for cat. The downside is that he doesn’t hear or speak the languages in proper grammar; we’re still using the English grammar. So we might say, “Look at the ibon flying in the air!” or “Do you see the gato?” But at least he’ll have a general translation of some common words. In fact, when we’re out and about and he hears a conversation in Spanish, he’ll point out that they’re speaking “Spanish!”

Ironically, I’m not sure if my toddler will speak or understand the two languages when he grows up. Unless he’s immersed in the language where he hears and speaks it every day, he’s likely to lose it in preference for English. I’m a classic example: I grew up in the Philippines for the first eight years of my life, but two years after living here in the States I stopped speaking Tagalog (even though I can still understand). I’m guessing that unless he constantly practices, he’ll probably just understand the languages as well without speaking them.

Why do we still promote different languages then, if there’s no guarantee that he’ll even speak fluently as an adult? I’ve read a few studies on the benefits of bilingualism on early brain development, including better focus despite distractions and the ability to disregard irrelevant information. For instance, if you show a bilingual child the word “red” written in blue and ask him what the word says, he’s likelier to say “red” whereas a child who speaks only one language is likelier to say “blue.”

We also like exposing our toddler to different languages because that’s such a huge part of a people’s culture. Especially since he’s mixed ethnicity living in the U.S., we want to raise him with an awareness and appreciation of his culture and family. He’ll hopefully understand how global our world is, and that there’s a wider scope beyond the small world he has known.

Do you teach your kids a second (or third) language? What benefits have you seen?

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Holy $#!& my toddler said what?!

My toddler loves talking up a storm, but sometimes he can say the most inappropriate things! Right now he is so into clocks; whenever he sees one hanging on a wall, he’ll ask, “What time is it?” or point out, “There’s a clock!” He can even identify certain times of the day on the clock, like three, six, eight, nine, ten, and twelve o’clock. That’s all fair and good, except he hasn’t mastered the “two-consonants-in-a-row” sound of “CL” in “clocks,” so he ends up dropping the “L” sound. So whenever he says “clocks,” he drops the “L” and says… well, yeah… you get the gist. We try to act cool and on top of it even though we rolled our Ls out loud for as long as we could, “Oh, CLLLLLOCK.”

When my little guy was a few months old and wasn’t even saying real words, he would make funny guttural sounds with his throat and sometimes it ended up sounding like he was saying, “Die!” So I would be pushing him in his stroller in the grocery or a store, and he would screech at the top of his lungs, “DIE!” And I would tee-hee all embarrassed and smile so sweetly and angelically to others around me as if to prove that no, this is not a demon-baby in my stroller; he just has his funny sounds and sayings.

Thankfully he hasn’t said a curse word, although I can’t say the same for myself. I’m pretty good about not cursing in front of him, but sometimes a curse word makes it way out of my mouth when something is about to go wrong, like when I dropped a glass tupperware filled with chili and it shattered everywhere and I had to scoop up all the wasted food I had planned on eating and sweep and mop the glass shards (Just sayin’…).

Other times my toddler has repeated a few less-than-pleasant phrases from me (why is it always me and not his daddy? Hmm… could I be the potty mouth in the house?). I was driving in the car and some idiot driver pulled a crazy stunt so I said, “Oh, geez.” Right away I hear a cute little voice behind me say, “Oh, geez. Hahahahaha!” Or worse, I’ve said, “What the heck?” (and yes, I said “heck,” not “hell” thankfully). And my mini me repeats it: “What the heck? Hahaha! ‘What the heck!'” as if it is the funniest phrase ever.

What funny or embarrassing things have your kids said? Have your kids picked up on less-than-pleasant words from you?

Speech explodes with a vengeance

Back when my toddler had a speech delay, I hung on every sound that came out of his mouth, hoping that perhaps a word was struggling to get through. “Did you just say ‘ha’ for hat? I think you just said ‘ha’!”

Now I have a new “problem”: he can’t keep his mouth shut! Everyone told me that once they start talking, you can’t get them to stop. These are some of the incessant questions that he asks:

  • “Who turned on the two circle lights by the elevator?”
  • “How many tables do you see?”
  • Where’s the box with the divider?”

And letting me know what’s coming up in our routine:

  • “Hugas (wash hands), brush teeth, then lotion.”
  • “Turn on lights, open blinds, then we turn off fan.”
  • “When Mama’s done at office, Mama picks up LO.”

With all my previous (and useless) worrying, these “complaints” are lightly made and I’m fully grateful for the irony. These days though he has taken it up a notch, almost rubbing it in my face that I was actually once worried about whether he would struggle with speech. Either way, I would rather have this comical annoyance than having a speech delay on our hands. And even though he’s clearly talking, I still make it a point to constantly help expand his vocabulary and grammar:

Introduce new words
Last week, my toddler noticed that the light on our elevator looked like it needed to be replaced. He asked, “Why is the light blinking?” He knows the word “blink” from seeing lights on the freeway or on his toys. So I said, “The light is probably flickering because it’s getting old and needs to be fixed or replaced.” In this case, the light was flickering more than blinking, so now he says “flickering” when a light is indeed flickering quickly as opposed to blinking.

Have real conversations
Now that my toddler is well past the cooing stage, I try to have real conversations with him: I answer his questions seriously (even if he asks them a bazillion times) and use regular “adult” words.

Ask questions
Even though I may not always get an answer, I ask my toddler questions that will hopefully get him to elaborate. I’ll ask him how his day was or what fun things he liked best about his day. Recently my husband asked him, “Who was there at Lola’s house?” or “What did you and Mama eat at the Grove?” He answered these pretty accurately!

My toddler’s speech delay was the last time I worried about him. I just remember how useless it was to worry about something that I couldn’t control. For that reason I’ll gladly (albeit wearily) answer his never-ending questions of “What’s this song? What’s this song? What’s this song?”

Why do kids repeat questions and phrases over and over? What other tips help toddler further develop their language and vocabulary?

Like learning a new language

Whenever LO mispronounces words, I’m reminded of the times when I was taking Spanish classes, or when my husband asks me how something is said in Tagalog and repeats it. Usually those initial phrases are jumbled up and only through repetition and listening again do we get it. The same applies to LO. While his mispronounced words are sure to make me smile and think, “How cute!” I make it a point 1) not to laugh about it, and 2) not to make a big deal about correcting it.

That said, I can’t deny that I think it’s absolutely adorable when LO says:

  1. “To going Lola’s house.” instead of “Going to Lola’s house.”
  2. “Where’s the merote?” when asking where the remote control is to the AC.
  3. “Gazobe… gabeezo… gazebo…” when trying to say the word “gazebo.”
  4. “Spike” instead of “Skype.”

It’s easy to talk down to toddlers when they’re learning a language that you have been exposed to for at least three decades, or to laugh at their mistakes, however innocent or well-intentioned. But when you realize how many words they’re up against and how much they practice and enjoy learning, it’s more than admirable—it’s language-learning at its best.