Say What?: On Navigating a Speech Disorder

Don't hesitate to ask for help if you believe your child needs it.

This morning,  Auggie asked me if we could “pay oh eh.”  Even though I’m typically his most proficient interpreter, I was a bit stumped.  I said, “Oh, you want to dye more eggs.  Well, we already did that this weekend.”  He stared at me and vehemently shook his head no and repeated, “pay oh eh.”

Okay, okay, I thought.  He wants to do something with an egg.  Got it: “I understand.  You would like to play with the plastic eggs the Easter bunny hid.”  Auggie looked at me with what now appeared to be a hint of frustration in his eyes (probably mixed with consternation) and replied “No!  Pay oh eh.”

Aha!  I suddenly realized what he wanted and triumphantly asked,  “Hey buddy, do you want to play with the playdough eggs that were in your Easter basket?”  He appeared thrilled and said, “Yes, Mommy.  That’s exactly what I said the first two times.”  Ha! Not quite.  But he did look at me excitedly and shout “pay oh eh pay oh eh”!  And thus we happily made a mess with playdough for the next half hour.  

This exchange is somewhat typical of what goes on all day in our household.  While there are many words and phrases that my 29-month-old can now say successfully, there are also lots of times when I feel like we’re speaking different languages.

For a very long time I worried about Auggie’s lack of expressive language.  He seemed to understand most of what I said and could follow directions, but never uttered anything in response.  He was always more of a pointer and grunter.  We tried baby sign language, but stalled out at the sign for “more.”  It seemed that every time I tried to add a sign, he would lose the one that came before it.  

As his little friends began gabbing more and more, Auggie’s silence became more glaring.  Friends and family didn’t seem as worried and provided many helpful rationales for why he was potentially delayed, including: his prematurity, his gender, and that some kids were just late talkers.  Someone wondered whether he could hear adequately so I had an audiogram conducted.  Someone else suggested that I take the time to talk to him. (I’ll leave you to insert your own sarcastic comment here.)  I appreciated all of their support, but still had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

I feel like I should take a moment and explain that Auggie was born at exactly 35 weeks, but at a very healthy weight of 6 lbs, 5 oz.  In fact, he seemed gigundo next to all of the other babies in the Level 2 nursery.   Despite some initial problems with breathing and some later issues with jaundice, we were able to bring him home after only a week’s stay.  

I mention his prematurity AND THE FACT THAT I AM NOT A MEDICAL EXPERT because who is to say what can be traced back to being born too early.  Some children develop “on track”, and some need a little more help reaching milestones.  For example, Auggie’s asthma doctor assures me that his breathing issues are more genetic than anything else, but as his mother I can’t help but wonder whether his lungs really needed a little more time in utero.

In the fall of 2011, as Auggie was approaching his second birthday, I decided to call Minneapolis Help Me Grow.  I felt it was time to be proactive and find out whether we were entitled to any help.  I had done some research and found out that calling the county was the first step.  

The social worker listened patiently to my worries that Auggie didn’t have anywhere near 50 words and was most definitely not uttering two word combinations, those being the milestones that I kept reading were important.  She assured me that the Minneapolis public schools would contact me shortly to set up time to observe him.  I cannot say enough about how kind she was.  I highly recommend contacting Help Me Grow if you have concerns with any aspect of your child’s development.

I won’t bore you with all of the details of Auggie’s evaluation (surprise, surprise, but I think some things should remain private).  I will tell you that he now receives services from the Minneapolis public schools and every single person we’ve worked with so far has also been incredibly amazing.

I wanted to step (mostly) outside my self-deprecating comfort zone this week to share our experience.  Please understand that I am very aware that speech disorders are common and manageable.  I also know that there are children with other types of developmental delays that require much more attention and resources.  

Bottom line, I am blessed to have a child that is happy and funny and mischievous.   And I am extremely grateful that we have now have teachers who are giving him the tools he needs to express himself.  

(P.S. I wouldn't be surprised if you determined that the poor child never got a chance to learn to talk because his mother never shuts up!)

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Sarah Burgess April 10, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I wanted to add that our pediatrician, as well as all of Auggie's ECFE teachers have been really supportive throughout this process. I'm also lucky to have several speech pathologist friends who patiently answered my many many many questions.
Karen Hylen Metty April 10, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Good luck to Auggie (& you momma!!) We've been where you are. For our son it was only one summer of speech therapy but the difference it made was amazing. I cried the 1st time that someone asked my son his name & they were able to understand him when he said it. (Also, kuddos to you for both trusting your gut & taking all the advice w/a grain of salt!)
Sarah Burgess April 10, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Thanks, Karen!! I know what you mean - each time he surprises me with a new word I want to stop and tell everybody. Meanwhile, I have a 15-month-old who is now talking a little bit. That is totally crazy for me because I didn't experience that with Auggie. I wanted to add above that our pediatrician and ECFE teachers were also super helpful, as were the speech pathologist and early elementary educator friends I am lucky to have.


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