Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Counting words

Shameless self-promotion added below:

I love my in-laws for many reasons, but I have come to appreciate them even more in their role of grandparents. They dote on Scooter, not (just) in a spoil-the-grandkid way, but with a boundless, enthusiastic love. And he thrives on their attention. One observation that has played no small role in my serious consideration about moving closer to them is that the last two times we have visited, Scooter's language ability has grown noticeably. This summer we spent a long time there, so one could claim he would have experienced the growth regardless. But over the holidays the change was remarkable, even in the first few days. His sentences got longer and more expressive, he was willing and better able to participate in conversations he did not initiate, he had fewer meltdowns.

Before I go on, a little back story, some of which I've probably mentioned before. Scooter has never been ahead of the curve on language, but we didn't worry too much in his first two years. There was an incident in which one of the pediatricians (the one we liked least) at his doctor's office expressed concern that he wasn't naming multiple parts of the body, but we figured that knowing about 15 different animals and the sounds they make was a reasonable substitute. When we moved up to Canada, we noticed that his language development seemed to freeze for several months. We chalked this up to the move and decided to wait for him to settle in before acting. His language development did begin to pick up again, but once he was settled in at his current daycare, it was evident that he was behind his peers.*

We still held off a bit, encouraged by both his development over the summer and our pediatrician's assurance that his language skills were within expected norms. But the return to daycare reminded us that he remains behind his peers, especially since younger kids had moved into his class and he was still the least developed, in terms of conversational ability.

Last month, I found an agency I could refer Scooter to without needing a pediatrician's recommendation. I called them and filled out the intake form over the phone. Since I've done so much reading on the subject, I was able to figure out, from the questions being asked, that Scooter is probably borderline language-delayed according to their guidelines.** An example of his line straddling: when asked the average length of his sentences, I answered 4-5 words; the "normal" length for his age is 5-8 words.

One of the things I don't feel that such questionnaires can get at, however, is that my son approaches language differently. Now I think that I understand exactly where he's coming from, but it's hard for me to figure out if this is because I'm adult who can understand different perspectives or if this reflects my own different approach to language. As with many other things, he doesn't immediately accept someone else's conclusions. He wants to work through them on his own and then stubbornly hangs onto his own conclusions. We see this in some of his vocabulary. A 'motorcycle' is a 'motor bicycle,' 'underpants' are 'underwear pants.' Any time we respond with the shorter form, "I see the green motorcycle too," he emphatically returns to his own terminology, "the green motor bicycle is all tied up" (the motorcycle in our garage has a lock through its rear wheel). He knows what we call it, but we're wrong.***

It will be August at the earliest before Scooter can get in for further evaluation. We're looking at private alternatives for before then, but I have my own ideas for what he needs and what is "wrong" with him (but that's for another post, a long involved one that includes great guilt and insecurity about what he needs in terms of daycare). I spent a great part of our vacation counting words in his sentences. As I said before, he started to speak more when we got to the grandparents; within a week, his average was around 6-8 words a sentence with occasional utterances of 10-12 words. When we were in the airport headed home, a woman asked him the perennial question, "How old are you?" This question is a source of anxiety for me--yes, he knows his numbers and he's heard us tell him how old he is many times, but he never wants to answer, will downright refuse. As I was about to coach him to the answer, my usual way of deflecting the issue, he carefully held up three fingers and said, "I'm fwee!" My heart leapt.

*I try really hard not to compare Scooter to other kids, but it was very noticeable that he was still relying on meltdowns when the other kids were willingly shifting to verbal expression.

**And, for better or worse, he is in a class of kids with nobody else below average.

***Then Trillian will turn to me and say, "He is so your son."

Edited to add: I almost forgot, I'm over at Mommy Blogs Toronto again. My post should be on the front page until tomorrow. It's a Toronto twist on trying to conceive, so it fulfills, at least in part, my recent pledge to blog about starting that all up again.


Suz said...

My twins have the same reaction to visits with my parents; after every visit, no matter how short, they always seem to come away with a new skill. This is due mostly to my mom who gives them attention and really teaches them.

Mad Hatter said...

Fascinating. Miss M's language really took off when my sister came to visit this summer and had another boost when I took her to see her extended family over Christmas. I think that it is partly the love they feel from these people, partly getting to see their parents interact with someone other than mom and dad or, rather, mom and mom, and partly a great degree of comfort that comes from being with that much family.

Here's to Mr Fwee finding his comfort zone with the language.

bubandpie said...

Speech therapy is fun, and it feels nice to be doing something, but I think that the most useful approaches to Bub's language development are those I've come up with myself.

I'd love to know more of the details of where exactly Scooter's deficits are. With Bub, it seems like there are some giant holes in his language development. He has recently started throwing all kinds of extra words into his sentences - "No crayons" has turned into "Getting the crayons to be putting away!" His sentences are less correct than they were, but more ambitious - so I'm taking that as a good sign. But on the other hand we still have NO use of language in reference to past events - and only minimal comprehension when we refer to recent past events.

I'm still waiting for that email you promised me about this, you know!

kocovnik said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog recently but haven't commented yet for many of the reasons you mentioned in your post on lurking. But I'm working on a Ph.D. in psycholinguistics, so I couldn't resist commenting on this one.

I still don't think I have much worthwhile to say, but I remember that until I was about 7 or 8 I kept insisting that my mother was wrong in calling the thing that dispenses water a 'faucet'. 'Fraucet' sounded so much better, therefore, 'fraucet' it must be! Scooter's words sound more logical than mine, and I've turned out okay (at least language-wise).

Also, although I study adults rather than children, I've come across some studies suggesting that kids develop language on a probabilistic model, resulting in a U-shaped learning curve. Thus, they tend to do worst just before they really "get it" and start doing great. I don't know how relevant that may be for you with Scooter; it's probably worth just what you paid for it - nuttin'. But I thought I'd at least say hi and share it.

Mouse said...

kocovnik--Thanks for the comment; glad to meet another reader! I do tend to think things will sort themselves out for Scooter, but can't help obsessing about it--it's my way.

And it's interesting to hear that being around extended family has a similar effect for other kids. There's definitely something to be said for the comfort of family--I rarely see Scooter happier than when he's got grandparents and uncle in addition to mommies.