Friday, June 24, 2011


Joe has a speech delay. Now, obviously, there are many worse things than having a child who is a late talker, but trust me when I say it's very, very hard to hear a professional tell you that your vibrant, bubbly, drop dead gorgeous baby is "developmentally delayed."

No way. Are you kidding me? My baby is perfect. Just look at him!

Insert nagging worry here. I'm a mom. I worry. Like all moms, I worry constantly about vague, amorphous, wildly unlikely possibilities, like "Joe has a temperature of 99.7 degrees. Could it be meningitis?"  Which is why it's especially hard when your child gives you pretty darn good reason to worry. Like, when he was almost two, and we thought he might have said "mama," once or twice, but we weren't sure. You can't write that worry off as imaginary.

Of course, Joe's (lack of) speech doesn't seem to bother him one bit. He gets his point across extremely well without much verbal symbolic communication. For example, if he wants yogurt, he simply goes to the cupboard and picks out a bowl, then goes to the fridge and removes the yogurt, and then places both items directly in front of one of his parents with an expectant look and grunt.

You have to admit, this doesn't leave a lot of room for doubt: Okay! Yogurt, coming right up!

So we're definitely not suffering from a lack of communication in our house. Just verbal communication.

And other than speech, Joe has hit all of his other developmental milestones right on time, or ahead of time. His motor skills have actually caused me quite a bit of worry ... not because they are delayed, but because they are too advanced! Seriously, how many other nine-month-old babies can climb ladders? Unlike his risk-adverse, clumsy, last-one-picked-for-every-sports-team mama, Joe is strong, nimble, adventurous, and fearless (translation: a major handful).

Climb into a recycling bin that is almost as tall as me without upsetting it? This is how it's done, mom.

But I would sure love to know a little bit more about what's going on under those cute curls.

Those are some seriously cute curls.

While Joe didn't seem interested in imitating sounds or parroting things back to us for most of his second year of life, this kinesthetically advanced little boy picked up sign language like nobody's business, learning a vocabulary of about 40-50 signs in just a few months. The problem is, Steve and I may or may not remember which sign is which at any given moment. This leads to many exchanges like this one:

Joe: Frantically signs something.
Me: "Book? Cheerios? Cheese? Horse? Pig? Timmy fell down the well?"
Joe: Sigh.

Anyway, at two years old, while his peers were having fun at their immersion French/Cambodian preschools, Joe still only said a few words (and "mama" was not one of them), and despite constant coaching from us (which had taken on a desperate, imploring tone), showed no interest in repeating sounds after us. A speech assessment put him almost a year behind his peers (again, very hard words to hear about your perfect child, especially when a year is half of your lovely child's life!). The good news was that this meant he qualified for free, in-home speech therapy through California's Early Start program. Which is totally awesome, by the way. (Governor Brown, if you're reading this: Please don't cut their funding.)

Joe must have heard this good news (or maybe he just finally got tired of his mother forgetting the difference between the signs for "book" and "cheese"), because about a week before our first scheduled speech therapy session, Joe suddenly turned into a little parrot, imitating everything we said. We had heard that many late talkers really blossom around the two year mark, but we weren't prepared to watch Joe double his spoken vocabulary in about four days. Wow! Look at him go!
So that's where we are now. Every week, a nice lady named Sarah comes to our house with a suitcase full of toys and plays games with Joe. What's not to love about that? Speech therapy is awesome! And Joe is learning new words every day. Useful words like "help," "up," "down," and "milk." Of course, he's still far behind his peers, who spend their time discussing the finer points of Descartes - in French, naturally - but we are thrilled to see Joe genuinely interested in learning to talk.

And as he learns new words, I discover that he understands concepts I never knew he grasped, like "red," "green," "yellow," and "blue." Now, when he tells me that his overalls are "boo," my heart shatters into a million little pride-filled pieces. 

Perfect. I'm so proud of my quiet, stubborn, strong, agile, intelligent little boy.

Maybe one of these days, I can stop worrying about this issue and go back to amorphous concerns?
This whole motherhood thing: it's intense, huh?


  1. Yay Joe!!! Do me a favor and teach Maeve her colors next time we're over? I'm beginning to worry about her.

  2. beautifully written. thank you. (and if you do figure out how to stop worrying and how to love/accept/nuture the kid that is...let us know, eh?)

  3. Wonderful! I love your candor. Remember that Joe is perfect! He is just following a different path to the same destination!

  4. Yes, a beautifully written post that tugged at my heartstrings. Think positive: the world can use a lot more people who think before they speak. Joe is storing up concepts, experiences, feelings, and the words that will express them when he is ready. Which it sounds like he is about to be. Keep us posted!

  5. Oh, what a lovely, lovely post. I am so glad Joe is making progress: just like our Charlie did, in his own good time. At two, Charlie pretty much had one word, which was 'doo', originating from 'juice' but along with a pointing finger, it became anything he wanted. Doo? Doo? Like Joe, he was also a very, um, advanced walker/climber/physical explorer. (Lock the cupboards! Remove all bookshelves!) I heard a joke (which I can't tell well) but it was along the lines of a baby who never spoke until he was several years old, when he suddenly said 'no' to something. His parents said 'wow, you can talk!' and the baby said 'yes, but until now, everything was satisfactory'.

  6. Thanks everyone. It means a lot. Jane, I love that joke. Everyone tells me that soon enough, we will wish Joe would shut up! I have to say, that sounds nice, and at this point, I really doubt it!

  7. One day in the not too distant future you won't be able to shut him up and you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.

    And yes. Intense.

  8. The signs for book and cheese can be very similar! It's a natural mistake! And yeah, duh, I guess it makes sense that super-nimble Joe would be good at a more physical way of talking. Inder, this is very moving and well-written. It's so hard to articulate, as we've discussed, the emotions that go with this. You somehow hit just the right note -- humor, indignation, concern, pride. And "boo" overalls! Sniff, sniff. So sweet.

  9. I don't mention it at all on my blog, but Vinny at almost 23 months old just started saying mama, dada, pee, poo. Nothing else except for a really unusual sounds for yogurt and he refers to his brother, sister, the dog, the cat... all as "da". I dread his two year check up. Deja vu for us. Rocco did not utter a word until well past 3. At 3 1/2 they said he was not only blind, but autistic. He's now almost nine and his vocabulary totally age appropriate. We actually just had his IEP and dropped speech. I never thought I'd say that. Dropping speech therapy that is totally free?

    Like you, we use a lot of signs. Not as many as Joe, but it has been a lifesaver. I just have to remember to relax about the whole talking business. My middle child talked before her older brother. Awkward in public!

    The reason I really needed to comment on this post is that as I was reading this post, I'm not kidding, my oldest has been on a roll and has not shut up for the past hour. Just as I read the end of the post my husband said to me "has he even taken a breath in the past 45 minutes?"

  10. Sascha - We have heard so many encouraging stories from other parents of late talkers, and I can't tell you how great it has been! I'm sorry you're going through the worry again, but I do think it's pretty funny that Vinny's vocabulary is pretty much limited to bathroom humor. I can always make Joe laugh by responding to his babbling, "Did you say poo poo?" Regardless of speaking ability, the part of his brain that makes bathroom jokes seems to be 100% functional!

    That's wonderful to hear about Rocco: People tell me I will want to shut Joe up one day, but seriously, I can't wait!

  11. Really great writing. Good luck on this journey, and yes, he does look perfect as he is!

  12. I know this is an old post, but I just discovered your blog yesterday. I love it! SO much of what you write resonates with me, the sewing, fabric hoarding, the adorable toddler. We are taking our boy to the regional center for speech screening very soon. The pediatrician is worried. He also communicates well and has embraced baby signs wholeheartedly, just doesn't use verbal words or seem interested in parroting and the like. He was also very advanced in motor development. I wonder if so much of their attention was spent learning the motor stuff that they weren't paying as much attention to the verbal input they were receiving during those early months?

    Anyway, I look forward to following along with you on your blog!

  13. Hi Folkhaven! I just stopped by your blog, and it looks like your little guy is a bit less than 2?

    I just wanted to say, the assessment process was probably the most stressful part of the business and things are looking up now that we have regular speech therapy.

    At around 2 years, Joe's interest in verbal communication really increased, he started parroting everything. At 2.5 years, his vocabulary has exploded. He has not "caught up" to his peers, but he is catching up when you consider that only six months ago, he was deemed to be a year behind, and now he's talking much closer to a 2-year-old level.

    It does seem likely that he is just a late talker, and he doesn't show any signs of other developmental delays at this point, so that's good.

    Of course, every child is different, but it's important to remember that some kids really do just talk later and it's not a pathology. Good luck to you!

  14. I'm going back and rereading your speech posts because we finally followed through with the developmental screening for Eli and the news was much worse than I expected. I'm so glad you posted about Joe's journey because now I read about how far he has come in less than 6 months. It really helps me to calm down the whole worry cascade I'm experiencing right now. So, Thank you.

  15. Folkhaven: You don't have an email associated with your profile, or I would have emailed you directly. I do, so feel free to drop me a line if you'd like to talk outside of blog comments!

    The assessment was the hardest part with Joe, and a lot of what I was struggling with when I wrote this post six months ago. It is very, very hard to be told that your child is "delayed" or "behind" or flawed in any way. I definitely felt a ton of worry and angst being told that my two year old spoke at a "12 month level." That was half of his life! And really, those 12 months are, um, the ones where you learn to talk? So very scary.

    But I was glad we went through the process because once we got Joe into speech therapy, we met a bunch of really upbeat folks who saw Joe's great qualities and really didn't seem too worried about him. We've learned a lot from our speech therapy - just knowing her has calmed down our anxiety a lot.

    Just the other day, Joe amazed me by pointing out an "alligator" and a "hummingbird." Those are big words!! He's still behind, but he really has made so much progress in the past six months. You may be amazed!!


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