Thursday, January 21, 2010


Jack's speech language pathologist is lovely and bubbly and smart. She is only 2 years out of grad school, and she loves her job-- even all the miles she logs in her SUV shuttling back and forth between houses and daycare centers all over town. She really likes kids, too, like screechy Harry, who apparently wanted to tell her every word her knows as fast as he can. He kept assuring her that Jack is just a baby and he's learning to talk, but it's taking him awhile. Then he recited the plot of the most recent super hero cartoon he watched ("The Fantastic Four," the one where Incredible Hulk makes a guest appearance as part of a Nick Toons Hulkathon, in case you were wondering.) Then he and Jack waged a screaming war over crayons. I turned on the TV in a desperate attempt to occupy him so I could talk to the SLP, and he passed out on the couch clutching Spiderman in one hand and a wooden guy who came with the train table in the other. Phew!

This appointment-- our first with Jack's actual therapist who plans to come to our house every week-- was actually our fourth overall appointment. I called for services in November, after Jack's 18-month well baby appointment in October when Ben and I (mostly me) told the pediatrician that we were concerned that Jack had barely any words and only seemed to be able to make a couple of consonant sounds. The doc said he didn't think Jack had a delay, but we might want to call our state's Birth to 3 program because he could have an oral motor difficulty that was making it hard for him to enunciate.

We met with a very nice intake worker before Thanksgiving, and she was the first person to tell me there's a technical term for what Jack does when he eats-- stuffing, which is exactly like it sounds. He shoves tons of food in his little cheeks, sometimes making himself vomit at the table. This has only happened a handful of times, but still. Ew. Jack only had a couple of words at this point. He said dada, which meant mama or dada, and he said na, which meant either yes or no, depending on its accompanying head movement.

In early December, we met with an early education specialist and a gross motor specialist, who observed Jack a bit and talked to Ben and me a lot about Jack's communication and eating behavior. By this point, Jack had added "Yeah," and "Mih (meaning either milk or more) to his repertoire, bringing his total 4 words with 6 meanings, a low number but not a low enough number to qualify for services because children in our state must demonstrate a 25% delay. What made Jack eligible for services was his sensory motor mouth issues. He didn't like slimy foods, stuffed food in his cheeks, and didn't seem to be using his tongue to push food or drink to the back of his mouth.

Right before Christmas, our service coordinator and the early education specialist came back to meet with me and discuss a service plan, and yesterday, we met our SLP. In this intervening time, Ben and I had a few disagreements about whether or not Jack actually needed speech therapy. Ben thought that I overstated Jack's issues-- especially the feeding issues-- and he was concerned that I wanted speech therapy because it was trendy. He also suggested that because no one had really watched Jack communicate-- they had just listened to us describe Jack's communication and eating skills-- his qualification for services might have been incorrect. I was really defensive when presented with these arguments and insisted that Jack needed help, and we went round and round. Blah, blah, blah.

Between our initial meeting when Jack had 2 words and our meeting with the evaluators when he had 5-ish words and now, Jack had the language explosion we were told to expect (told by friends, parents, our doctor, everybody we expressed concern to, really). Still, though, it didn't seem to me like he said all that much, and he still doesn't speak clearly or say the ending syllables of most words (which the SLP told me yesterday is actually not a big deal, not a developmental red flag, and not out of the ordinary until the age of 3 and a half.) Jack also started eating more foods. Eggs, watermelon, honey dew, cantaloupe, mango, oranges-- all of which are slime city.

Yesterday, the SLP, looking over her notes, said to me, "So, he only has 5 words, and he's 22 months. He should have between 30 and 50 words."

"Uh," I said. "He has a few more than 5 words now." I promised her I would make a list of all his words when I had some down time that night.

She launched in to an explanation of how in 90% of the houses she visits, parents set kids up not to talk by responding quickly to nonverbal cues so that the child doesn't become frustrated. She noticed Jack trying to climb into his booster seat and told me that in a situation like that, I should say, "What do you want, Jack?" even though I know what he wants. Asking him puts the onus on him and gives him the power to use words or signs (she showed me a ton of simple signs to use, as well). He said, "Uh," and I helped him up. This happened a few more times. Instead of leaving his cup where he could reach it, she said, I should put it out of his reach so he would have the opportunity to tell me what he wanted. When I give him a snack, I should only give him a little bit, so that he has the opportunity to tell me "more" or "all done," in words or signs. Such common-sense things that I never thought of because I am busy and distracted and want to do what needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. So, it's all my fault, basically.

Nurture Shock, which takes as its premise the fact that we are raising our kids super wrong and there's scientific evidence to prove it, (and is a great book and written in such a way as to NOT make you feel defensive at all, mainly because the author always uses his own experiences doing it wrong with his own son, who is only 5) has a chapter on language development that cemented my suspicion that Jack's style of communication is all my fault. The author sites studies that prove that mothers who respond-- verbally or nonverbally-- to their babies' babble have babies who talk waaaaaaaaay better than their peers for years. Mothers who were too busy or distracted to respond as often to baby talk have babies who are bad talkers. When I read this, part of me thought, "Ah, to be a man who can wield the calculating objectivity of science and toss around a word like mother without ever considering its weight." But most of me just thought, "Shit. I should have paid more attention to Jack." A teeny part of me (and Ben said he also though this) thought, "I wonder if parents of colicky infants are more likely to be low responders?" This makes sense because we kind of tuned out his noises for awhile there after the crying mercifully stopped. If he wasn't screaming, we were NOT going to mess that up with interaction, you know?

After the monsters were asleep last night, Ben and I sat down and compiled a list of Jack's words, keeping in mind that normally developing toddlers have 30-50 words. Here are Jack's:

Monster (raaaaa, with arms outstretched)
Buzz (Zhuh)
Woody (Woo-wy)
Zurg (Zhuh Dada, which is really funny b/c Zurg says to Buzz "I am your father")
Water (water)
Bottle (baba)
Wash (wawawa)
Candy (nandeh)
Pizza (za)
Zbar (bar)
Nose (nuh)
Hello (heyo)
Brother (brurer)
Zip (zzzzzz)
Harry (sort of-- he says Rarry or Hay, but usually just says brother)
Big Boy
I Want
Bye Bye
Snow (no)
Yes (yeah)
Sponge Bob (buh-buh)
Little Bear (buh-buh)
Car (vroom)
Train (vroom)
Hungry (gungy)
Monkey (ooh-ooh ee-ee)
Banana (nana)
Dinosaur (rar)
Lion (rar)
Juice (jish)
More (muh)
Milk (mih)
Waffle (wawal)
Bagel (babl)
Elevator (evtr)
Dog (woof woof)
Cat (really high pitched shrieking noise)
On (ah)
Up (uh)
Down (da)

That's 67 if you count sound effects and 59 if you don't.

He combines these words, too. For instance, he might say, when asked who he'd like to have read to him at bedtime, "Not Mama. I want my Dada." He says "I want" various things, mostly food items. I think, though, that for him "I want" is one word. He has no concept of want without I or of I without want. Or he might ask before dinner, "Wawa oo-oo-ee-ee big boy?" which loosely translates into "May I have water in my big boy monkey cup?"

So. Erm. I don't know.

What I do know? We had so much fun at Jack's Little Gym recital yeserday

Is this not the face of fun?

We were supposed to be sitting down, but those other grubby kids stole all the polka dots we were told to sit on

Jack was very seriously waiting for his teacher to say "Show time," which was the cue to do some money jumps on the spring board.

Launching into a forward roll

A mid-bounce shot

The bar is not Jack's favorite activity

I love all of these pictures of Jack and his baby friends getting and proudly inspecting their ribbons (while the Star Spangled Banner played-- how funny is that?) I also never noticed before that this class is all boys.

Then Jack came home and drank a glass of cookie

Seriously, a glass of cookie

What about chatty Harry, you ask? He is all about commercials these days. He wants whatever he sees. Yesterday, he asked me about some Sketchers high tops that he claimed only came in girl colors, but he wondered if I could find them in boy colors online. Moments later, he was lusting after some grease-cutting kitchen spray with the fervor of a Cold War era housewife. This morning, he enjoyed a healthy breakfast en route to nursery school.


  1. My favorite word of Jack's is "cat" (the high pitched shrieking noise)... that is hilarious!! Zurg (Buzz's Dada) is a close second. I love how creative all the words are when they are this young -- you'll love looking back on that list!

  2. Sigh. We are effing them up at every turn, aren't we? It's so disheartening that no matter what approach one takes, it is somehow the 'wrong' one.

    Sounds like Jack's word explosion was productive, though. I love that Buzz and Woody are two of his words. :-)

  3. did forget a word...Sequoia! Or, however he says it! I was amazed at his speech explosion and can relate oh, so much, to the speech services. We are in the process of doing the "trendy" thing and having Q evaluated for services through the school district. Will keep you posted. Thanks for all this info:-)

  4. Beth-- you're so right-- su-zhuh-zhuh

  5. Well duh, of course it's all your fault. (You know I am kidding.)
    But great theory on colic and response.

  6. I feel like I've read somewhere that parents respond less to difficult babies... if I ever think of where I saw it I'll let you know.

    Wes is in big trouble if that is the case because he was a VERY difficult infant and is, so far, quite the moody little toddler. Super cute, though.

    LOVED "Moments later, he was lusting after some grease-cutting kitchen spray with the fervor of a Cold War era housewife." So funny!

    Sounds like Jack is doing great!

  7. I think the parents responding less to difficult babies is very interesting. My babies have been very easy (let's hope for one more time on tha tone) and a friend's babies have been very difficult.

    She has always let them cry more early on than I do. And I think mine are just more content/easy going than hers. Wonder if the response thing is the case here? Or if it is purely personality...

  8. Sounds SO much like what we went through w/ Fynn (except he still won't eat slimy foods other than yogurt...) except Jack's therapist sounds a lot more knowledgeable than the one that we had - where we had to figure a lot that she told you out for ourselves (but I'm not bitter...)

    Good luck! He looks like such a cutie, and that list of words is huge!

  9. Tripod7:42 PM

    Well, as usual, blame Mom. It is just a guilt sandwch when you have kids. Once they disproved the "schizogenic mother" for schizoprenia causation, and the overprotective mother as a cause of male homosexuality, I thought they'd give it a rest!
    I think the SLP is just giving you guys the techniques because Parents as Teachers has bcome the thing in pre-school ed. *

    * until they are in real school, when you are again an idiot who should just echo what the school says, or shut the eff up and let the experts take over.

  10. Does Harry ever talk for Jack? As a a tiny amount of completely anecdotal evidence, my mom tells me my little sister talked way later than expected, and by their estimation, it was because I always talked for her ("She's hungry" etc.). The same thing happened with one of my older sisters and her two oldest. Just a thought.

  11. I am impressed with Jack's words! AJU5 will only say the sound for one animal - the cow. The others she has no interest in learning (and she said moo before cow unlike the other animals).

    And Harry's "addiction" to commercials - too funny!

  12. You just can't win, can you? If you're responding too quickly you're spoiling them but if you don't respond you're damaging them. But I absolutely agree with your difficult baby theory - Hannah was colicky and I think I learned to tune out a bit of her fussing and crying. Bad mommy. Sounds like he's coming along though - and so cute!

  13. Sarah. Jaime told me about your blog.. LOVE IT... Is it possible that we are living bizarre but parallel lives? Or do all feminist mothers read the same lit and respond similarly? Anyway, as for speech therapy my experience was this: A friend (I say this loosely) of ours in Kansas worked for the state agency that does speech and occupational therapy for ages 1-3. She was worried about my youngest son Woody when we moved to Kansas. He was 2 1/2 at the time. Woody probably only had 10 words-- which was actually more than Lincoln did at that age. So we talked to our pediatrician and scheduled an in0home examination. He qualified for "services." After they came, Lincoln told me that he and Lucy were "smarter" than Woody because they used more words. So I decided that I was comfortable with his level of communication and thought his needs were being met so I told the agency that I didn't want their services after all. Well, I didn't realize that this would be a big deal. Technically they are an advocate for your child once they qualify for services and now are legally protected under the ADA. They wee required to report mew to the department of family services for denial of treatment. All of this drama and emotional stress for nothing. A year and half later and Woody is reading 20 words. My concern is this attempt to “normalize” language acquisition, I’m not sure that is the best approach. Is he able to communicate his needs to you and Ben?
    I just finished Nurture Shock last night and read your blog today-- how funny.

  14. I know I'm way late on the draw, commenting here. My apologies for that.

    Still, this whole situation has been on my mind ever since Jack got his first eval. Maybe I'm sensitive. I married a very quiet person after all, and hearing his mom talk I suspect he'd have been considered delayed as a small kid.

    Can't help but thinking (and know I say this with all my love), with Ben & Sarah & Harry in the house, how does Jack get a word in edgewise? :)

    I liked EAMD's observation, that sometimes the littlest in the family ends up with a personal translator. I'm sure that was part of Doug's experience, as his sisters were 10 and 13 when he was born. They fancied him their own living doll.

    I'm backing up Mary on this: what's normal? If y'all can understand him and his needs are met, I guess I just don't see the big deal. My inner conspiracy theorist suggests it's all down to making sure perky recent graduates have plenty of work.

    Point is, I'm ecstatic to hear that Jack's picking up dozens of words now. Also glad you have a good rapport with the SLP. Have no fear. Jack really does remind me of Doug; they may not say much, but when they do, everybody listens. :)

    Love y'all.