Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Words, words, words

I read this in a parenting email I get every week:

Sometimes children with older siblings do things differently from first-borns. Instead of learning words for familiar objects and names of caregivers first and then combining words into sentences, toddlers with older siblings at home may begin their journey into the world of speech by babbling in sentences. They may sound like fluent speakers of a language no one knows. Eventually, more and more real words sprinkle their babbled sentences, until they are speaking the same language as everyone else.

Um, did I have amnesia for a year of my life there around 2005 or so and give birth to an invisible, low-maintenance child whom only Auletta can hear? Or are Justin and I just really large children? Because Auletta's been babbling since, oh, eight months. I am often a little weirded out when I am around other young children by how little formation and enunciation there is to their verbal expression, but apparently they are normal and Auletta is strange.

Still, because Justin and I are both verbally-oriented people with high expectations for our daughter, we are feeling a little concerned about the fact that Auletta doesn't speak English words yet. She is probably the most social and expressive baby I've ever met (not that I've met a lot, I suppose) and is not shy about babbling whenever and wherever she is and whoever she's around. She waves her finger around while delivering orations (the comparison to Mussolini and Hitler has been made) and has the full range of cadences, structure and emotion in her speech, but she is speaking fluent Auletta-ish, or whatever you want to call it. I think I am starting to detect English words in there somewhere, but I'm not sure if I'm just imagining it. She doesn't seem very interested in imitating us. I guess she thinks her own language is sufficient. She has a lovely voice and I want to understand what she's saying.

So, those of you who have children older than Auletta, which I think is nearly everyone who reads this blog, how did your children's speech develop? Is she at a normal place for 13 months? I know it is probably ridiculous to be anxious at this point, but since talking is one of the things I'm excited about her doing (like, she doesn't walk yet but I don't really care about that so much, partly because she is obviously very close to doing it, partly because when she does it'll mean more work for me so why rush it?), I think about it a lot more than I think about where she's at in regard to eating or sleeping or moving or other things.


Deanna said...

Okay, here I go. As you know, Alexandra (first-born) is highly verbal - many people are mistaking her for a six or seven year old just on her verbal skills alone and she's a month from her fifth birthday, and JT (second-born) has a severe speech delay and has been in speech therapy for over a year. So I think I can speak (write?) with a little authority on this subject.

Alexandra said her first word (Hi!) at 10 months. By the time she was two, she was stringing together two and three word sentences. JT said his first word at 13 months (No!) and now at age three has begun to speak two and three word sentences. Both kids babbled and spoke gibberish (or, as we call it in our house, Ewok), and JT still does, to some extent.

I would watch Auletta closely over the next year. Since she is definitely "speaking" her own language with complete inflection and expression, I would not be concerned at this point. However, if at age two she only has a handful of words - less than 15 or 20 - then I would ask your pediatrician to send you to a birth to age 3 speech therapy facility for a formal speech assessment. (This is where we, as novice special ed parents, dropped the ball with JT - his first speech assessment was in a private care facility, which was all well and fine and good, but the three months we spent in speech therapy there were frustrating and expensive, mostly because they were used to working with kids with speech impediments or difficulties, not a child in the process of acquiring speech.) At age two, JT spoke maybe five words among all his Ewok-speak. Of course, one of his constant difficulties was that Alexandra was continually speaking for him.

Since the walking is on its way (motor and speech development being loosely linked together), I would relax. Make sure you give her plenty of dead air to fill when you talk to her. Ask her questions. See if she will "parrot" you and repeat words or sounds (a HUGE indicator in speech development and child interest in speech). Sing lots of catchy Veggie Tales songs (music and speech being in two different places in the brain - JT learned words from singing much more easily than by speaking them, with many thanks to They Might Be Giants ABC's and 123's). Keep reading to her, but let her develop favorites and read those over and over again until you can recite them blindfolded - when we started reading to the kids at bedtime at about 15 months, we read Goodnight, Moon to each of them every day for a full month. See if she can anticipate the next animal in Brown Bear, Brown Bear or the next fruit in the Hungry Caterpillar. But the best thing you can do at this point is just let her be and relax yourself. She's only 13 months! Let her be a baby for a little while longer. It goes fast enough as it is. Plenty of time to plan her summer reading schedule for her sixth-grade year later. :)

I hope this does help. I have lots of opinions on speech development now that I'm a mother of a special ed preschooler.

bleisenblog said...

Dylan was exactly the same--really babbly and sharp and social, but not that interested in saying actual words for way longer than I expected. She would have a few, then stop using them, then get one or two more, and I was never very confident about most of them. I went and looked at a post of mine from when she was 13.5 months and I have a list of 10 words that all sound suspiciously similar (daddy, dog, done) and half had question marks next to them. I'm not sure, but I think it may have been a few more months before she had a bunch of reliable words. I never worried very much because she seemed so expressive in Dylish.

Juliet said...

Thank you both for answering.

Deanna, I feel bad for even bringing this up because I know for me there's not much reason to think Auletta isn't developing normally, whereas you have to deal with a diagnosed issue, so I'm sorry if I was insensitive for posting about this. But I also figured you would know a lot more about speech development than I do, and could tell me to quit worrying and just let her be a baby for a while. I guess the biggest thing we're concerned about is she shows few signs of imitating words or phonemes when we talk to her, or if she is it's really hard to tell. But maybe it always is at this point.

And Kate, what you said really helps because it sounds like Auletta is now where Dylan was at her age (and weird, the age difference between them is 13.5 months so I guess this was right around when Auletta was born). I think one hard thing is even if she sounds like she's saying "dog" or "duck," the du- sound is one she's been making for months, so it's hard to tell if she's associating it specifically with dogs or ducks when she says it. Oh, and she does say "no," but it's more like she knows it's a response to an interrogative and she says it to be part of the conversation than because she's against something. She doesn't usually say no in protest.

Anyway, I should probably just relax, because she is doing fine in every other measurable respect. I think what I just need to hear is that there's a really wide range of normal.

Also, I love the term "Dylish." Aulettish or Auletta-ish doesn't sound as cute.

Deanna said...

Don't feel bad. I am glad that I can share my experience and that other people might benefit from it. And JT is doing so well at school - just ask Ben and Laurie! Even they can tell the difference.

Auletta is normal. Relax! :)

Helene said...

Benaiah apparently is more of the strong silent type. He did very little babbling up until about 13 months. Then all of a sudden at 15 months it was a whole new story - like the day he out of the blue shouted "bad dog" when she started barking. Now he asks for crakas and gaga (water), and tells me to blow on his hot hot at lunch. He tells me when it's dark, or when he sees a moo or a neigh. And he can't help but say hi to every stranger he sees. It's very entertaining! Oh and he started creeping along the furniture at 9 or 10 months, but was too chicken to let go and walk on his own until 13 months or so. Auletta is doing just fine. :)

Laurie said...

My "late talker" Aidan never shuts up now. I remember when we were concerned! (Though Sam was just like Sana.) Oh, how I wish for some silence... :)

All that to say, try not to worry. I think Deanna is right in saying that you should watch her over the next year, but don't worry. I bet your kid is destined (doomed?) to be frightfully and delightfully verbose like mine.