When my oldest was born, he seemed “normal”. He followed the growth charts, he met his milestones on time. I was happy that he seemed to be developing normally, and I had no concerns about him. I had begun talking by about the time I was 9 months old, but I didn’t expect he would necessarily begin that early. It was exciting to watch the little person he was becoming. As he got over a year old, he still wasn’t talking. He eventually began to use words, but only for a short time. He would use a word a few times, such as cat, on, and off, but then it would disappear. When he had his checkup when he was 2 1/2, I asked his doctor about it. He was an older doctor, with grown children. He asked about how he responded to instructions, and how much he seemed to understand. He said one of his sons had been a late talker too, but if he wasn’t talking by his next checkup, we would see about doing something about it. Shortly after that, he started talking. It started with a few words. We wrote them down in his baby book. Over the course of a week, we stopped writing them down because there were so many. A week later, he was speaking in sentences. It took a while for his speech to become clear to everyone, not just those that were around him a lot, but he is 5 now, and speaks perfectly clearly, and with a large vocabulary.
My middle son seemed to follow the same pattern as his brother for the most part. He was a little older by the time he started talking though. He was over 3 before he started talking. The number of words he says, as well as how well they can be understood has been steadily expanding over the last few weeks. We have also realized that he knows the alphabet, as well as a number of letter sounds, many colors, and numbers up to at least 15. It has been fun getting to understand his world a little better. He has a cousin a few months older than he is who has been talking since he was about one, so it has been frustrating sometimes realizing how much must be going on in his head that we don’t know about.
Last year, I read two books by Thomas Sowell, on children who talk late, called The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late and Late –Talking Children. While there is no test to know for sure, the children described in these books sound similar to my children. There is a family history of musical ability, as well as math and engineering and related professions. They have good memories. My oldest is very good at math, and my younger son at puzzles. The books are very interesting, and led me to consider how we tend to want everyone to be fit a certain guideline of when they should learn things, and if they don’t, we assume something is wrong. Many people noted for their intelligence and abilities, such as Albert Einstein, did not learn to talk until they were much older than is considered normal. My children actually fell into the earlier range of when the kids described in these books learned to talk.
Thomas Sowell’s theory is basically that the brain can only work on developing so much at once, and in these kids, the priority goes to things like analytical abilities, which is why so many are good at things like math, puzzles, and music, all of which require analysis of patterns. Their brains are putting so much effort into this that they can’t learn to speak at the same time. The part of the brain that understands speech is separate though, so they may actually understand more than most kids their age.
I have learned that there can be a greater range of normal than what is suggested in the baby handbooks. Not every child who learns a skill later than usual has something wrong, or needs intervention to fix it. There are also children who talk earlier than the range given as normal. I’m sure it probably produces less anxiety to be the parent of a child who is ahead of the curve, not behind. Strangers at the grocery store are probably more delighted by a talking baby than they are by a 3 year old that they think is ignoring them, or that they decide is shy because he “won’t” talk to them.
As my son learns to communicate, it is delightful to be able to have a conversation with him. Although he has always had a twinkle in his eye, his sense of humor is coming out now that we can understand his teasing. It was definitely worth the wait.
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