This evening I had a rare chance to spend some quality time with my ‘late talking’ son, just him and I. It feels like, ever since he started kindergarten, there has rarely been a time that I’ve had the chance to hang out with him without my wife or toddler present too. Today, however, my wife went straight to bed to take a nap after work and my 2 year old was already asleep in his room, so my oldest son and I sat and watched episodes of Captain Underpants on Netflix together. I have to say, we really connected even though there was a serious communication disconnect. Basically, I got the gist of what he was saying, and it was great to have some time together that felt like what it must be like for most fathers and their school age child.
As I’ve mentioned before, my son is six years old but his language skills are roughly equivalent to that of my 2 year old. We’ve never had him officially diagnosed as a ‘late talker’. By that I mean, there’s never been a doctor who said, ” Yep, he’s a late talker. I’ve seen this kind of thing before”. No. Doctors have just opted to test for autism or physical disabilities and end up saying that, despite being otherwise normal, he’s just not talking. I’ve read books about what’s called the Einstein Syndrome and I’m pretty sure that’s what is going on with my son. I would like to point out though, that you could be fooled by the term ‘syndrome’ into thinking this is some sort of sickness or brain malfunction, but from what I’ve read and, more importantly, what I’ve observed in my son that this is simply not the case. Kids who are late talkers have no physical or psychological problems. Their brains are simply developing other aspects of their brains while other kids their age are developing their own speech centers in the brain.
In other words, they are devoting brain power to other features of their intellectual development and don’t see the need to waste the energy on the speech center of the brain right now. While they have trouble with talking as young children, they end up speaking just fine as older adolescents, teenagers, and adults and in many cases turn out to be quite intelligent people who you would have never guessed to have had any trouble communicating as a child. Please don’t get confused and think that this means they are geniuses or savants of any kind. Yes they might seem uniquely intelligent or else ahead of their peers in certain regards, but it won’t be to any degree that you would call the newspapers about.
So anyways, back to my story about my son and I watching Captain Underpants and enjoying the toilet humor as only a couple of dudes can. The particular episode we watched was about a teacher who turned into a giant avocado and proceeded to destroy the city. This was the first time I had seen this episode, but my son had seen it before and he spent most of the whole time trying to explain the story to me. Right away, I was impressed that he was able to say ‘abowado’ (avocado). You might be thinking, “Wow, that’s not so great,” but you have to understand from my point of view this was incredible. First off, I knew he meant avocado. Second, that’s a tough word. I mean, it’s four syllables and has three different consonants in it (one of them being the dreaded V!).
Not only was I impressed with his close attempt at saying avocado, I was overjoyed by how much he spoke to me. Granted, I only got about 40% of what he was saying, but he was doing some serious storytelling. I also asked him many questions about the plot and characters to which he was always happy to reply, and I was able to understand more of his responses than his storytelling since I had a sense of what his answers to my questions should be. One thing I didn’t do, and to be honest I’m still a little conflicted about it, was correct him on his mistakes.
Over the last couple of years, many teachers and various therapists have always pushed the importance of correcting my son in the moment, so he knows what he is doing wrong and won’t develop a habit or learning he will have to unlearn at some future time. They say that it would be harder to unlearn something and learn the correct way to do it later than if we were to work with him to get it right the first time.Well, tonight (as well as a many other times over the years), I decided to just let it slide and let him get it all out without interruptions. I mean, I don’t have a speech delay and I know how frustrating it is when someone is unable to understand what you are saying or interrupting you to correct things that have nothing to do with what you are trying to talk about. Many times, I’ve seen my son get frustrated and furious if I don’t understand what he is saying and I didn’t want to overtax him emotionally when we finally had the chance to Netflix and chill.
So tonight, when he said ‘abowado’ I just decided to understand him instead of correct him, since I literally did know what he was talking about. For the 60% of the time that I didn’t understand what he was saying, I employed the same tactic I use on senior citizens and long winded individuals: I just nodded and said things like, “Oh yeah? Really? That’s cool.” We ended up having a great time because I let it be what we wanted it to be: two guys watching a funny show and not an exercise in strict education. While I feel bad for letting him commit errors and possibly cement bad habits into his speech development, I feel that it is important to allow him to make mistakes because it gives him the chance to get in the flow of speaking without having to worry about any kind of interference. He was so happy as he talked, I didn’t want to take away his joy in communicating.
Beyond the communication aspect, we got to have some great guy time. I loved how he laughed when I covered my eyes as the school principal in the program ate rancid guacamole and then puked it all over his office. I think it was great that we got to start off his spring break with some quality time and a good laugh. For me, I’m so happy that I’m getting to enjoy mostly normal experiences with my son finally. I’m glad there is less worry and more contentment in my life as a dad too. I fee l there is plenty of time to correct his mistakes and, unfortunately, not enough time to enjoy ourselves the way we did today.