Three Beautiful Words

I have the honor of being the dad of a ‘late talking child’. Many people have no idea what a late talking child is exactly. I sure didn’t know anything about it until my oldest son was well into his toddler years. Let me just tell you, right now, my oldest son is 6 years old and my youngest is almost 3, and they are pretty much talking at the same level. I only understand about half of what comes out of their mouths, and if I were to be honest I understand my youngest son a little more because he has better pronunciation than my oldest.

Now, I say I have the honor of being the dad of a late talker because, besides his speech delay, my son is pretty fantastic. Compared to other children his age, he’s very perceptive and surprisingly social. He has no problem walking up to people and starting a conversation with them (and doesn’t seem to mind that they have no idea what he’s talking about). A lot of his speech comes out as “da da da da da” but, if you pay attention, you’ll discover that the sounds he makes follow the rules of language (having undertones of sentence structure and complexity) even though it sounds like gibberish.

At age 2 he was completing 32 piece puzzles by himself (and now can do 100 piece puzzles), while my current 2 year old can only manage to eat puzzle pieces. He has an amazing memory and in the last couple of years has developed the ability to draw that I find impressive for his age. I can tell you that, right now, I’m feeling pretty good. I love where he’s at right now, and I can imagine a day when he will speak at the same level of his peers. I look forward to having talks with him and wonder what discussions we might have. It might be another 2 to 3 years but, I’m not worried anymore.

Things were not always good though. My son was not always one to meet the milestones when he was supposed to. He crawled at a later time than most when he was a baby, and he really only did the army crawl instead of the full crawl with arms and knees that most children do. He was late in taking his first steps and walking, but only by a couple of months or so. When we noticed that he was not talking or developing vocabulary at the expected times, my wife and I weren’t really worried as we expected it would just be a little bit later. However, when he was about 2 and a half years old and only had about 5 – 8 words in his vocabulary we knew that something was up, and we got scared.

I can tell you that the next few years were not good. People talked to us about autism and whether he might be on the spectrum. A lot of people suggested that he just needed some tubes in his ears. Some people suggested that since we spoke both English and Spanish in the home that perhaps the bilingual atmosphere had something to do with his speech delay. What was even scarier was that a lot of doctors and other people we spoke with had no idea what was going on. We had his hearing checked and found he had no problems. Other tests showed he had good vision, he wasn’t autistic, and he was very intelligent.

Then my mother found a book that talked about something called “The Einstein Syndrome” by Thomas Sowell. I’m so glad that I was able to read this book, because it talked about case studies with other kids with speech delays and what was described matched what I noticed in my son. The book talked about how Albert Einstein didn’t really talk until about age 4 and that it was a few years later till he was on the same speaking level as his peers (hence the term Einstein Syndrome). The book laid out so much information that I was amazed to find that this ‘problem’ was more prevalent than I had thought. It seemed lots of kids experienced this. Reading the book gave me hope, but to be honest it didn’t rid me of all my worries and fears. My son still wasn’t talking. At age 3 and 4 he was still doing a lot of pointing and making monkey sounds to get what he wanted.

In time, my son attained more vocabulary but never could string words together to make a sentence or even something as simple as ‘my cookie’. He would make a bunch of sounds together that sounded like sentences, but we really couldn’t be sure what was going on. The one day that I knew we were finally going to get somewhere was a few months after he turned 4. I remember a day when he was just Netflixing like crazy. He had probably spent over 3 hours in front of the TV and I just wanted him to play with toys or do something else. There was a huge fight, his temper was something fierce back then. I finally had to pick him up and carry him to his room. I remember him scratching me and trying to bite me.

When I finally got him to his room and plopped him down on his bed, I will never forget what he said, “I……HATE……YOU!” The words came out like he was having to push them through a steel jaw. I could tell how much effort it took to do it, but he was so mad at me he wasn’t going to let that stop him from telling me how he felt. I know most parents feel that gut punch whenever their kids tell them they hate them but, oh my God, they were the 3 most beautiful words I ever heard. I remember my wife was watching from the hallway and, after he told me he hated me, I turned to her and we looked into each others eyes. We were the happiest we had been in a long time. I was like, “Did you count that? That was 3 words in a row!” and she was like, “Yeah it was! Holy shit!”. Meanwhile my son was thrashing on the bed yelling like a maniac, but we couldn’t be more elated.

We never got a 3 word sentence out of him again for about another year. Shortly after he turned 5, something seemed to click and he just decided that he wanted to talk and he’s been making amazing progress ever since. And, really, that’s how I feel it must be with these kids. They’re going to talk when they want to and not when you force them to. From reading about late talking kids, I’m guessing my son is on the later side of things. It seems a lot of late talking kids start to make progress a little earlier than my son, but I could be wrong. No matter what, things are good now. It’s still a struggle for everyone, but at least we know that we’ll get there.

I just want to tell anyone who may have a late talking child or know someone who does, that I would love it, that if you have any questions or just want to talk, please email me at thedisturbeddad@gmail.com and I will be more than happy to respond. I have a lot more stories and more information that I plan on sharing through this blog, and if you would like to comment or offer your own stories I would love to share it here as well.

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