Delayed Speech in a Bilingual Toddler

The Decision to Seek Evaluation

My son just turned two. He is bright, curious, and an expert at nonverbal communication.

His second birthday meant a checkup at the doctor, and an assessment of his developmental milestones. When we got to speech, I knew what was coming. You see, he still only has a handful of words, mostly monosyllable nouns.


Speech Delay

A speech delay. Despite my obsession with his language acquisition, I am trying to remain calm so as not to pass on any anxiety to my sweet boy. People’s reactions tend to lean toward consolation, “Lots of kids go through delays like this, then they never stop talking!” Also, “If his comprehension is good then that’s what’s more important.” These are true, but then there is also the inevitable, “Well he’s learning two languages, right? It’s probably that.” Maybe it is a factor, but there’s actually no solid evidence that links bilingual language acquisition with a speech delay.

His pediatrician recommends he be evaluated to see if early intervention is necessary with speech therapy. Reactions I get to this are mixed between, “Oh he’ll be fine! He just turned two!” and then others give me more supportive feedback to seek therapy because it’s best to be proactive.

Professional Evaluation

I am taking him to be evaluated because I want to give him every resource he needs to be happy in life. If you’ve ever been immersed in another language setting where you are able to understand most of what’s being said and follow commands, but not express your own thoughts — it’s very frustrating. I can imagine he is going through something similar. As his comprehension continues to grow and his speech development lags so far behind, I can see that it is starting to affect his mood. As his pediatrician says, maybe he is just a late talker and he’ll catch up after a few months. Totally possible! But what if it doesn’t, and I just ignored this critical period to get him help because I wanted so badly for him to be able to speak on his own?

I am able to stay calm because he is able to communicate in other ways, and my instinct tells me he’s just starting to come out of his “silent period.” If he wants something, he’ll point. If you don’t understand him, he’ll take your hand and walk you over to his desired object. If you still don’t understand him, he may even take your fingers and place it on the item he wants, or on a body part if something is bothering him — like his tongue when he eats something spicy followed by “haaah [hot].” He may try to show you he sees a bug by moving his fingers through the air and making a bzzzzz sound, or shouting “Caw, Caw! O’er der! (or sometimes O’da [orada -Turkish for ‘Over there’]” when he sees a bird or “EEE-EEE-OOO-OOO” for a monkey.

I will admit that jumping into speech therapy could be culturally based to living in the United States. In other countries it seems intervention for speech delays at such a young age is not seen as so crucial. Multilingualism is more prevalent as well. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up on that side of the fence after my experience with the therapists. But you won’t know until you try. And I must exhaust every option for my child.

If during his evaluation they decide that he requires therapy, we are going to employ the same exercises in Turkish to see how it goes. Right now, 99% of his verbal communication is in English. But his receptive language is about even for both English and Turkish.

A Short Rant

A bothersome trend I’ve encountered during conversations (as well as on many of the discussion boards I’ve obsessively scoured throughout the internet) is the stigma about getting help in the first place. It’s one thing to try and console a worried parent but it’s not going to hurt a child to have him/her evaluated. It’s unfortunate that a parent’s pride could influence a decision like this at all.

As you hang out with other parents, they like to brag about their kids’ speedy development in this area or that, because they are unconsciously bragging about themselves as parents. I’m OK with that because it’s natural to be proud of your child, but what I can’t take is when they start comparing them to other children like it’s some kind of competition. The fact of the matter is, some children excel without any support, others are behind even when given plenty of resources.

Yes, decisions we make affect our children but if your baby walks soon or talks early, or even if they sleep through the night all the time — I’m sorry to disappoint you but there is no prize for that. You don’t “win.”

“Patience. Positivity. Love.” This is my mantra for now.

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