Thursday, October 15, 2015

More than Words, or the Absence of Them Altogether

A million years ago, when Flynn was 15 months old, I took him to the pediatrician for a checkup. He asked all the regular questions,
"Does he eat with a spoon?"
"Does he cry when you leave and is he happy to see you when you return?"
"Does he have 10 or more words?"
"Mama, Daddy, milk?"
"No, nothing."

At his doctor's suggestion we started early intervention speech therapy. Once every two weeks a therapist would come to our house and play with Flynn, trying to get him to imitate sounds and actions. The year came and went and there was nothing, nothing, nothing.
No words. No mama. No dada.
Sounds that he would pick up he would lose a few weeks later. He started to get frustrated and have tantrums. We started to worry. We implemented a bit of sign language into our routine and it helped. We sought more therapy and Flynn made progress. He blew out candle flames. He played a kazoo. He said, "Leethka! Leethka!" over and over again and we thought it was nonsense until he enlightened us by pointing to a picture of a police car.
Last week Flynn's pathologist diagnosed him with something called childhood speech apraxia, a disconnect between the brain and the mouth. He knows what he wants to say, but the process of planning the words, moving the muscles and making the correct sounds is not something that comes naturally to him. All the things we take for granted when we speak, neurons firing in milliseconds, is a long process for Flynn. And as he has tried to create the sounds that he wants and is met with misunderstanding and confusion he has already tasted the bitterness of failure.
My son understands everything you say. He knows when you say hi to him that he won't say hi back. He knows when you ask him how old he is that he can't respond. It kills me when well meaning people say things like, "Oh, he'll talk when he's ready" or "watch, he'll just start speaking in complete sentences!" That would be wonderful, but what if he doesn't? Isn't that okay too? Isn't it okay if his speech delay is exactly that- a delay- and not some latent genius?  I don't ever want to explain to someone that my son "doesn't talk," because he does talk-- he uses cadences and syllables and is extremely animated and engaging. His words just aren't clear or consistent. He wants desperately to be understood, and is so proud of his successes. I don't want to pretend that his speech will magically work itself out. I'm okay if it doesn't. It is a part of our lives. It has brought us into contact with wonderful people who love Flynn. Like any one single thing, it's a big part of him but it doesn't define who he is.
Today he is three years old.
When I look at Flynn, I am astounded by how beautiful he is. I can't believe his gorgeous little body came from me. His thick head of hair, his huge green eyes. He has a sweet smile and a very contagious belly laugh. And, even at this young age, I can see the goodness in his heart. Gentle and softer than most boys his age. He calls Francie "bobo" and kisses her head, shares his blankets with her, and fetches me if she is crying. Lately he has mastered "uh-huh" for yes while doing the sign for please, and also the word please, which he pronounces "leeeee!" At night when Jason and I tuck him in we ask, "Do you love Daddy and Mommy?" to which he replies, "Uh huh," and gives us each a kiss.
My son has never said, "I love you" or "Mama." And for a long time it hurt my heart. But I look at his face that I love so much, at his little smile, and I feel the way he puts his arms around me when I hold him and I am grateful that, for some things, words just aren't necessary.