When My Daughter Asked Me Who Taught Her How to Talk
My 6-year-old asked, “Who taught me to talk?”.
It was asked with such seriousness that I felt confused with what seemed to be a silly question. My daughter was asking me who had taught her how to talk? I felt myself quizzically pause and stare, trying to comprehend this odd question. You see, she had been talking as long as I could remember; I know it was well before her first steps, which occurred around 16 months. In the chaos of those days and months with a baby as well as her brothers, ages 2 and 4, I did not have much time for official baby book documentation. However, I had not counted on the betrayal of my own mind when she asked what her first word was, and as I felt a flood of guilt with my blank, I threw out “duck.” Regardless of the details, she talked early and a lot. She had heard this many times (perhaps driven by guilt of the first word scenario) and thus, her question stumped me.
And then she repeated, “You know, who taught me to talk?” The carefully placed emphasis on “who” was the clue that triggered my now quick comprehension. Over the last year and a half, she had witnessed dozens of speech sessions in our home and had escorted her brother to speech therapy at our small hospital twice a week for the year before she started kindergarten. Of course, she acknowledged speech therapy as way of life, a rite of passage in her eyes, and she wanted to know who had been those people who had made it all happen for her. I asked a clarifying question just to be sure, and she nodded eagerly and then looked a bit defeated when I told her no one had taught her to talk.
What a bummer that was for my Chatty Cathy and a moment where I realized this reality was all she knew. Unlike me, she had not witnessed other little people in our house soaking up language in the “typical” way, happenstance really, with no real teaching. Just language evolving naturally and in hindsight, mysteriously falling perfectly into place. My daughter’s understanding that we must be taught really stopped me in my tracks, not in a good or bad way, but it was another truth that had been brought to my attention.
Our new team member, a renowned oral motor expert, studied my son’s video and reported the following:
He is not moving the oral musculature. He has little to no upper lip mobility, and no lip rounding, no cheek moment, he is always in a high jaw position (with a lot of extraneous jaw sliding as he attempts to motor plan for sounds), his tongue is not moving and there is no dissociation of jaw/lip/tongue movement. When he was eating, the Rice Krispy bar was all on the front of his tongue. I would be happy to have you come for an evaluation and a few days of therapy. I would like to get more information about his medical history, feeding history, posture and alignment, his sensory system and I need a better look at structures. I want to rule out other things that need to be addressed before you spend the time and money to come here. In addition, I want to know what you have been doing in therapy.
Though my son had made so much incredible progress, this latest assessment told us he still faced challenges. I felt a sense of relief in the knowledge of some tangible issues that we can try to address. I felt gratitude for the mothers who read my blog and took their own precious few moments of quiet time and used it to share information that may help a little boy and a family they had never even met. This taste of humanity was too fruitful and lovely to ignore and so, I rejoice with this news.
I hope one day my son will ask me who taught him to talk. I will recount the details of his story in intricate detail, each tiny bit of progress checked off in a thick binder full of the copious notes of the many physicians and the speech therapists who worked tirelessly to gain progress even when the valleys seemed especially deep and wide. Yes, he has an army of people who are teaching him to talk and even more valuable, teaching his sister that learning comes in a variety of ways. I am reminded to strive to see the world more like my 6-year-old, quick to accept the array of teaching methods as being his normal, even enviable in her eyes.