My babies are going to turn 18 months in a few days. (So not babies anymore……)
I always thought that Bunny would start using real words early because she was babbling and imitating sounds so early on. Well, things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. In fact, it was Okra who started producing and imitating words since 13 months. Bunny understood many words and followed directions, but didn’t start producing words or imitating words at that time.
Needless to say, as a speech-language pathologist who used to work with this particular age group, I have been worried. I assess my children quietly on a daily basis. I spoke to quite a few speech language pathologists including my former coworkers. Everybody was telling me to give it time to see if her language would take off. One person suggested that I could always self-refer to early intervention if Bunny’s expressive vocabulary repertoire doesn’t take off by 18 months. As I watched my friends’ singleton kids 50, 60, 70 words by this age, my concern grew. Interestingly, my twins’ twin friends seem to be also stuck in their expressive language development. I began to wonder if it is a twin thing to have delays in talking.
I have been consistently communicating and speaking to my kids the way I educate parents at work. I model a word relevant to what we are doing, and wait expectantly for a few seconds to see if the kids would imitate. I describe situations, name objects, and tell an action word during an action, such as saying “kick” when we kick a ball. I don’t tell or force them to say words. I ask them questions, wait, and provide an answer if there is no response. I tempt them to use language by doing unexpected things such as taking off their socks half way. When I mentioned to my mom that Bunny might need language therapy in the future, my mom said, “Aren’t you doing therapy with her everyday?” At a baby shower, I told this friend of the expectant mom that I was a speech therapist, and this lady, who is an elementary teacher herself, exclaimed and said, “No wonder you talk to your kids differently than other moms I see. You say a word slowly and wait patiently for their responses. I thought you must be a speech therapist or a teacher.” Obviously I am trying to do something myself to boost my children’s expressive communication, and it is apparent to the outside world.
What I observed reminds me that kids’ development is unpredictable and non-linear. After gaining many words and imitating words from me consistently, Okra seems to have quieted down a lot. At the same time, Bunny began to be much more verbal with more spontaneous words and imitation. She has been requesting things by saying Cantonese words such as “Sue” for book and “Sui” for water. I have been jotting down the new words that she says everyday. Interestingly, she has been saying words that have later developing sounds such as “sh” and /s/, but remains silent when I model words that have earlier developing sounds, such as /p/, /j/ (“y”), and /b/. When the word begins with /b/, she may substitute it with /d/, such as “day” for “bay”. The cutest thing that she does these days is to fill in the last word of a line of a familiar nursery rhyme. We listen to the nursery rhymes by “Super Simple Songs” a lot. For example, she can fill in “day” in “Five little ducks went out one day”, and the “quack” in “Mother duck says quack quack quack quack”. I tested many songs on her and to my surprise, although her articulation is not the most accurate, she fills in for many many of the last words of a line. It tells you that when kids learn things, they don’t show what they know right away, but they take things to heart. In comparison to Bunny, Okra seems to be the quiet one now, although his articulation is clearer on many words than Bunny. He seems to pick up English faster and says words such as “truck”, “car”, “this”, “yes”. Even though his growth has seemed to slow down, I know that he may surprise me by picking up words again suddenly.
I would have liked my kids to have over 50 words each and started combining words spontaneously. But I have learned to be patient and will wait to speak with their pediatrician about their development before taking any actions. I know Bob thinks that I am crazy to worry about them. Especially that I know so much about this area, my sensitivity is heightened. It would be great if I can relax a bit, enjoy my kids and not worry about their development. It’s a mom thing, isn’t it? Always worrying. It probably never stops.