My daughter has defied “normal” speech development from the start, speaking in sentences and saying words like “applesauce” and “octopus” by the time she was 16 months old. Now, at 4, she is often mistaken for a first-grader age due to her impressive language skills…and towering height.
My son has been a completely different story. When he was 18 months old, I started to wonder if he shouldn’t be saying more. I shrugged off my concerns initially, thinking “he’s a boy, boys develop later” and “I can’t compare him to his older sister – all kids are different.”
I casually mentioned the fact that my son was only saying a few words at his 18 month check-up, not thinking it was a big deal. Our pediatrician said not to worry, just monitor his development and see where things were at in a couple of months. By the time he hit 20 months and nothing had changed, I started to worry a bit more and we were referred for a speech evaluation, “just to be safe” our pediatrician said.
The evaluation consisted of umpteen questions about what, specifically, my son could say, his behavior, and numerous other factors I had never really considered, like if he could sort and categorize items (does anyone know off-hand if their kids can do that?). After it was done, I was told that my son’s expressive language was a full year behind where it should be and we were given a diagnosis of a severe expressive language delay.
I struggled to fight back tears as the speech-language pathologist went over next steps. All I could think was that this was totally and completely my fault. I hadn’t read to him enough, hadn’t played with him enough, let him watch TV too much. My daughter was so verbal, hadn’t I don’t the same things with my son? Where did I go wrong?
The guilt has since passed and now been replaced with a fierce drive to get my little guy talking. Since we’re on a waiting list for speech therapy (which is unbelievably frustrating when you want to get your kid help, like, yesterday), we’re currently focused on the one thing I know I can do to help grow my son’s language skills – reading.
Inspired by the timeless and indispensable The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, I’m trying to get as many books in front of my son as possible, every day. The biggest challenge in doing this is getting him to sit still, so I’m trying to work on a couple of things.
First and foremost, I’m trying my darndest to create more opportunities to read. I’ve started reading books to my son when he’s playing, making our pre-nap and bedtime reading times just a little longer, even reading aloud to my kids at mealtimes. And whenever I feel the urge to flip on the TV, I’m trying to grab a book for the kids instead. Sometimes it’s just an extra book here or there and sometimes the TV still gets turned on, but I’m trying to default to books more often whenever we have a break in the day.
The other thing I’m working on is finding more books that interest my son. As the second child, he gets a lot of his sister’s hand-me-downs, and (surprise, surprise!) he doesn’t love all of the same books that she did as a toddler. My son’s main interests these days are trucks, trains and animals, and it seems there is no shortage of children’s books that encompass these themes. This past week I found myself reading three great books about farm animals, trucks and getting stuck in the mud:
- Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
My little guy loves trucks and anything blue, so this was an instant win for him. The story is cute and has a nice message bout helping others. While this isn’t a rhyming book, there are lots of animal and truck noises, which is awesome for language development and getting my son to try new sounds.
- Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw
A classic rhyming book about a herd of sheep and a series of misadventures they have with their jeep. It’s short and sweet, so it easily kept my son’s attention.
- Duck in the Truck by Jez AlboroughLike our other favorites this week, this story focuses on a duck driving a truck that gets stuck in the muck (love they rhyming in this one!). While a bit longer than Sheep in a Jeep, the story is more predictable, which my son loves. Even if he can’t say the exact words in a story, he still likes to make sounds when the cadence is predictable (e.g. he’ll make the “ee” sound for “see” and “me” in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?).
After a week of reading these books on repeat, my son said “guck” (duck and/or truck) for the first time. Whether or not it’s a result of our reading, I’ll never know. Either way, I’m calling it a win!