Nearly a month has passed since I first noticed what the boys weren’t noticing—their names, our names, simple commands such as “Come here,” “Look!” and “No!” Since then folks have given me some great anecdotes about someone in their family (always an uncle, strangely enough) who never said a word until they were 3 or 4 or 5, at which point they spoke in complete sentences.
Perhaps if the families of these uncles had fish eye lenses installed in every nook and cranny like this guy, they’d be able to determine just what their kids were communicating, even though they weren’t using words to do it.
One of the great reliefs of our early intervention playgroup, particularly the one with the speech therapist, was that, while the boys only say unintelligible things, it doesn’t mean they only think unintelligible things. The playgroup facilitator (for lack of a better title) and the speech therapist were able to point out many efforts that the boys make to communicate—Wagner in particular. They were able to conclude this after “a dialog” with Wagner that involved patting.
Cathy, the most wonderful early intervention specialist ever (also known as the playgroup facilitator) started a game with Wags. Securing eye contact with Wagner (it’s called joint attention), she patted her leg. Wagner watched her and then he patted her leg. She nodded and smiled and said something to him and patted her leg again. He responded by smiling and patting her leg again. It sounds simplistic and non-deterministic, but this is turn-taking. These are the real building blocks of communication.
Before you and I can have a conversation, I have to know that you are listening to me. If you look me in the eye and nod (or cock your head to the side), I know you are listening. I say something and when I’m done, I pause and it’s your turn to say something. This is established in the patting game. It’s an interchange that’s easy take for granted until you see another baby how doesn’t get the game—like Michael.
When we went back the next week, Wagner remembered the patting game with Cathy and they repeated it. Michael was still uninterested in the patting game, but he had other signs of budding intelligence. He was appropriately startled by and curious about the hungry cries of the one-month old who was also in attendance. And he and Wagner engage in their own form of “conversing” with each other—joint attention and taking turns patting and squealing.
That’s why you go to the experts (good experts, not just degreed ones). They can point out this or that gesture which is actually meaningful—not just in your imagination. And once you know what to look for, you can repeat it and reinforce it.
Other things the speech therapist recommended to help with speech production. Lose the bottle, push the sippy cup. Sucking is easy (that’s why newborns can do it). Drinking from a cup is hard. It involves a more sophisticated coordination of motor patterns. Trying to get them to drink from a regular cup will help, too. Michael’s been drinking from a cup for a while (with assistance, of course). He insisted on it (more communication!!!!) ever since an ear infection made bottle sucking impossible. But for some weird reason, the sippy cup just mystifies and frustrates him. Wagner’s better with the sippy cup. We are also trying to be better with the sippy cup, since the bottle is easier for us, too. Just fill and serve and put ‘em to bed.
But bed bottles are bad for their teeth, so we’ve got to lose the bedtime bottle (or at least brush their teeth afterwards, which defeats the purpose of bottle feeding as a means of sedation). Tomorrow we go to the dentist for the first time, and we’ll get better information then. It turns out that the boys have some enamel problems—such as, it’s not forming on some of their teeth—a condition that according to the all-knowing Internet, affects 80% of preemies born at their weight and gestational age. (Younger than 28 weeks and less than 1500 grams. The boys were 25 weeks and 860 g & 720 g). Stay tuned, gentle readers!
OH MY GOODNESS! I ALMOST FORGOT!!!! WAGNER SAID “HI” TODAY! COMPLETE WITH WAVE! There I go again, burying the lead.