The Next Stage of Speech

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What's familiar mean? What's a warehouse? What's an illness? 

Those are just a few of the questions that Ian has asked in the couple of days. These may be strange questions for a nine year old. I suppose they are perfectly normal, if you are a foreign language student. In a way, English is a foreign language to Ian. 

For those who have followed my blog for a long time, you know that speech did not come easily to my son. At three, when most kids are babbling away until their parents weep with exhaustion, my kid couldn't say his own name properly. He called himself "E." The second syllable was too much for him. He didn't call me, "mom" or Steve "dad." He pretty much didn't talk at all. He just screamed with frustration. All day. Everyday. For a year. 

His language abilities improved over the years. Sometimes, the improvements happened in baby steps. Sometimes, there were great leaps of progress. But there was always a lot work behind all the improvements. Language, which comes effortlessly to most people, did not come easily to Ian.

The first milestone was learning basic words that enabled him to express his needs – juice, bathroom, more, help, sad. Then he put them together in very simple sentences and added more vocabulary. Asking questions was a huge milestone. He probably didn't ask a good question until he was five or six. Why and how were especially tricky. He didn't master asking and answering why and how questions until last year. 

Without the ability to ask questions until fairly recently, Ian didn't learn key stuff. Last week, there was a character in a book who adopted a dog from a pound. "What's a pound?", asked Ian. "It's where you get cats and dogs and take them home", I said. "It's a pet store?", he asked. So, then I had to explain the difference between a pound and a pet store. I imagine that most four years pick that up from TV shows or books, but Ian missed all that. He spent most of his early years in a fog. He's like a wolf boy, who was lost in the woods for most of his life. 

As I was pulling together the paperwork for the new school district, I came across a speech evaluation of Ian from last January. The evaluator said that Ian spoke in five word sentences. Nine months later and you can't count the number of words in his sentences. Now, the next step is to plug holes in his learning.

Pound. Pet store. Familiar. Warehouse. Illness. 

27 thoughts on “The Next Stage of Speech

  1. “I imagine that most four years pick that up from TV shows or books, but Ian missed all that.”
    Naah. I wouldn’t bet on my kids knowing what a pound is (although back during the vogue for Pound Puppies, kids would have known).

  2. “I imagine that most four years pick that up from TV shows or books…”
    Modern books and TV shows seem rather divorced from reality. My kids have astounding gaps in their knowledge of the world. Until recently, they didn’t know how to address a letter. The gaps may be few, in comparison, but their world is so different from the world of my childhood, it’s a little hard to predict what they don’t know.
    “What’s a typewriter?”
    I remember we did have to explain to them what a “party line” was. (telephone, not politics.)
    To give progressive educators credit, when they ask questions about something, it sticks.

  3. We’ve had long conversations about typewriters, manual ones and electronic ones, and whether they all have the same typeface, and what about those typefaces that look like typewriters, . . . .
    Also about records and video tape and film cameras. The little boy was asking me a question about whether pictures from film cameras looked like pictures from “regular” cameras.
    But none of these things say that modern books and TV shows are “divorced from reality.” They’re divorced from our reality, but our children’s world is different from ours. We like to watch vintage television and movies — a recent fascination was watching Splash and noting the secretaries typewriter.
    They may not know how to address a letter (I’ve made a point of teaching them, but as an antique skill). They do know how to send email, though.

  4. “My son calls a regular phone “the old kind of phone.””
    Would that regular phone mean not skype/computer pohone, not a smart phone, not a mobile phone, not a land line (but wireless — most of our phones are wireless, even if they’re a land line), not a wall mounted/wired to the wall phone, or not a rotary dial phone?
    Amazing isn’t it? Samuelson had an article on the Wash Post remaining stuck in the idea that the world changed more over our grandparent’s generation than ours. I think one can make a case for that, but it’s certainly no slam dunk. As I wrote that list, I kept coming up with more ways to “phone” people that have been changing over our times.

  5. Nice floors, by the way.
    “Samuelson had an article on the Wash Post remaining stuck in the idea that the world changed more over our grandparent’s generation than ours.”
    Communications and coffee are unrecognizable, but everything else is more or less familiar (no flying cars or jet packs for daily transportation, no pills instead of meals, no scientifically managed reproduction for the entire population). Consider how many of us are literally living in homes built during our grandparents’ prime.
    My six-year-old asks about words all the time (in fact, so much so that it’s hard to have an adult conversation in front of him), but I don’t think our nine-year-old ever asked so many questions about words.

  6. “no scientifically managed reproduction for the entire population”
    Are you certain of that? I could argue that the increase in genetic screening, fertility clinics and IVF (etc.) have changed reproductive habits.
    Transportation: People fly much more frequently than when I was a child. Cars are moving toward hybrid or electric motors. Segways.

  7. I was thinking something like Brave New World or Gattaca (the first 20 minutes are superb), where every conception is a laboratory product (in Brave New World, babies are decanted, rather than born). There’s a lot of scientifically managed reproduction available in our day if you want it and can pay, but most conceptions happen much more haphazardly.

  8. Also, in our day, lab reproduction is almost always a last resort. Almost everybody would prefer to conceive naturally, rather than buying a boat for a reproductive endocrinologist and getting shots in the rump.

  9. I still really really want jet packs. I feel deprived about that. We do have video phones, though, another staple of futuristic predictions, and we’re starting to have voice command control of equipment, and an iPhone is practically that thingamajiggy the people used to have in Star Trek. And we do pretty much have “communicators” now, right? I personally have always wanted a “you are here” button on a map that I could carry around and I now pretty much have that on my phone. We also have the technology for self-driven cars now, I think. It’s largely a public policy question whether they will be deployed.
    We have, of course, had huge huge changes in reproduction, not just in the “last resort” of lab-assisted reproduction, but controlled reproduction. The world is hugely different when women choose when and how often they produce children.
    We haven’t had the dystopian forms of control, but, I’ll be idealistic enough to say that that’s ’cause the world is generally far more free than many of the futurists imagined it to be.

  10. Good for Ian, and good for Laura. Just imagine the state of his language if his mom didn’t have the wherewithal (knowledge, time, energy, determination, and, yes, entitlement) to fight for the resources he needs. My heart weeps for the Ian-analogue born to a single mom living below the poverty line with no real support system.
    That’s not meant to sound neener-neener; I know how much it has cost you — and Steve & Jonah too — to fight for Ian’s needs. Thank heavens you could and did. Make that can and do.

  11. Amy P, funny, we just watched Gattaca for the second time with out teens. In the decade or so since it was first made, I feel our society has moved toward that dystopia.
    You can now test yourself for various inherited conditions. Should you? Would such knowledge change the options you can choose for health insurance, for example? If employers are claiming the right to force employees to join health clubs, what of the potential to judge employees’ genetic fitness?
    I don’t intend to sidetrack the discussion of language acquisition–but there is significant pressure on expectant parents to test for genetic conditions before birth, or even prior to conception, or marriage.
    Screening for Tay-Sachs carriers was one of the first great successes of the emerging field of genetic counseling and diagnosis. Proactive testing has been quite effective in eliminating Tay-Sachs occurrence among Ashkenazi Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora.[24] In the year 2000, Michael Kaback reported that in the United States and Canada, the incidence of TSD in the Jewish population had declined by more than 90% since the advent of genetic screening.[8] On January 18, 2005, the Israeli English language daily Haaretz reported that as a “Jewish disease” Tay-Sachs had almost been eradicated. Of the 10 babies born with Tay-Sachs in North America in 2003, none had been born to Jewish families. In Israel, only one child was born with Tay-Sachs in 2003, and preliminary results from early 2005 indicated that none were born with the disease in 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tay–Sachs_disease

  12. I loved the first 20 minutes of Gattaca where they set up the situation (bright but genetically impure guy, the result of non-scientific conception, wants to worm his way into the eugenic elite and become an astronaut), but I felt like it really fell off a cliff during the action/mystery portion.
    “I don’t intend to sidetrack the discussion of language acquisition–but there is significant pressure on expectant parents to test for genetic conditions before birth, or even prior to conception, or marriage.”
    That’s somewhat genetic, too, so it’s that far of a sidetrack. I was recently reading a newish Pediatrics article on the recurrence of autism in families with one or more older siblings with autism. With one older sibling with autism, there is a 13.5% chance of recurrence in younger children. With two older siblings with autism, there is a 30% chance of recurrence. Autism is a big place, of course, so it’s hard to say exactly what that means for any particular family.

  13. Youngest is a voracious reader. She tries on new words, now, thanks to years of encouragement as well as therapy. She’ll never be a fluent speaker in the ways peers might expect: intonation is always strange and some of her delivery sounds slurred. But it’s a lot closer to normal than she managed at four when the echolalic tendencies drove me crazy!

  14. Ian was (ok, is) so high maintenance that in a less optimal situation, he would have ended up mute. A single mom would be unable to work and ended up even poorer. In a shelter. He has so many fears, phobias and quirks that he might have been abused by a stressed out parent. Really, really bad things happen to kids Luke Ian all the time.

  15. “The evaluator said that Ian spoke in five word sentences. Nine months later and you can’t count the number of words in his sentences.”
    That is just so amazing.

  16. “Ian was (ok, is) so high maintenance that in a less optimal situation, he would have ended up mute.”
    That’s probably true, alas, in the modern world (which is one reason why single motherhood is a bad idea and should be discouraged by the powers that be, including ourselves). But as I think I commented once previously, before 1900, a child like Ian might have lived happily on a farm, where the slower pace would have made life tolerable. If you look through 19th century census records, you often find disabled people (sometimes identified as such, sometimes not, depending on the vagaries of the census form and individual censustaker) living with brothers, uncles etc. on farms.
    In this regard, there was an article in The Atlantic about six months or a year ago on the first child officially diagnosed with autism. I was interested to note that he had spent one summer working as a plowman, apparently without difficulty. In 1850, that might have been his life.

  17. Yes, I’ve thought about this a lot, y81. Would Ian be better off in a rural, slower world without high expectations about test scores, perfection, college entrance exams? Less stimulation and noise. More extended family to help. Both parents working at home. On the other hand, Ian is very, very good at technology. He sees the world in a visual way that translates very well to the computer and can retain large amounts of information, which comes in handy in this information age. He’s much more at home in front of a computer, than he would be milking a cow.

  18. “He’s much more at home in front of a computer, than he would be milking a cow.”
    There’s a lot of equipment and fixing to be done on a farm (and there would have been even in the late 1800s). Remember how very happy Temple Grandin was on her aunt’s ranch as a teen–aside from her bond with the cattle, there was the joy of tinkering and inventing.
    I have no doubt that there are many poor and single mothers with autistic children, but it’s also true that there are so many many academic families with autism spectrum children that it’s really rather a cliche. In their case (and the case of Silicon Valley families), the genetic heritage that has made them prosperous is the very same one that (given the right twist of the chromosonal kaleidoscope) produces children on the autism spectrum.

  19. An interesting side-note on rural life and disability: One of the things I always note when we visit the Mennonite side of the family is how many people who are fairly severely disabled are still treated as part of the community, given meaningful, contributive things to do according to their abilities etc.
    The slower pace of life probably makes this easier, but the big factors are the orderedness of the lifestyle and the belief that babies/children with disabilities are still gifts and should be treated as such.
    Ian is high maintenance and that can be wearing but he is still a fascinating and unique individual with his own contributions to make.

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