My first three kids spoke early and often and I took it for granted. Even now I am surprised by the breadth of their vocabulary. The babbles and giggles of an infant are some of the most precious noises to a parent, but when words finally begin to flow...it is as if a light switch has been flipped. Our little ones are no longer fenced in by the inability to communicate and as parents, we can stop guessing as they begin to provide stronger clues to their wants and needs. Plus, it is a precious time as we watch them discover that everything...everyone around them...has a name. It is the first opportunity we have at truly begin to "know" our kids.

We expected delays with Caleb. He spent his early months in an Ethiopian orphanage and his first exposure to English was likely on the day we met him at nine months old. A baby's brain begins wiring itself for speech early...and his brain had begun building the communication circuits for the language of his country...not ours. Just as he was ready to start forming Amharic words...we plucked him from Ethiopia and plopped him directly in the middle of a world full of English. Many times, when internationally adopted kids are transitioning to a new language, there is a period of time between languages when the kids are silent, not speaking much at all...and we experienced this with him. He was babbling when we met him and shortly after, and then it was quiet. But what I didn't anticipate was how difficult this would be, his lack of language, and how it would challenge us on a daily basis.

It is a struggle in any relationship, when one person is having trouble communicating their desires. Caleb's frustration was evident as he would try so hard to find the words, but his little mouth could not form them. I was never extremely worried that the issue was some serious underlying problem, because he found other ways. Through signing, pointing and noises, eventually we made it work. His receptive ability was amazing and he always understood what I was telling him, could follow complicated commands and picked up on things quickly...but still, the expressive communication was a struggle and I was desperate for him to speak...and so was he.

If he could have spoken at that time, I believe Caleb would have said that he didn't like me much. He probably would have told me that I looked, sounded and smelled different to him and that he hadn't had much consistency with my "type" in the past. From the day we met him, his dislike of women was evident and he has consistently (until recently) preferred men. When given the choice, he would have always picked his daddy or a grandpa over mom or grandma...always. It took much patience and diligence for me to earn his trust. For a long time, I was mothering a fairly silent baby - except during the raging tantrums...and mothering a child who had great contempt for me. It was hard and it was lonely. I was utterly committed, but it felt much like those times with a newborn...up with a screaming baby in the middle of the night...a baby that of course you adore...but in the lonely darkness you find yourself dreaming of the day they first smile at you...I was dying for some positive feedback. This went on for close to a year. After having him evaluated by a speech therapist, we learned that he might possibly have apraxia of speech. So, we were likely dealing with a child who would have had speech issues anyway...even if left in Ethiopia...and now they had been compounded by a move across the word to a completely different culture. We started speech therapy twice a week - and I was still waiting to hear this little one speak - not just sounds and babble, but real words...knowing it would happen eventually, but if I am honest, lacking the patience he deserved. The speech therapist assured us that it would come, we just had to be diligent with therapy and give him some time. Apraxia is a oral motor planning issue and it requires repetition and practice...but it would definitely be something he could overcome.

So we worked and waited. Two days a week, almost $500 a month
(Did you know that our insurance doesn't cover speech therapy for developmental delays? Perplexing, yes...but that is another post for another day.)...and then, actually soon after we began seeing the therapist...there were words. It was slow at first, but our sweet boy was finally talking. And shortly before his second birthday came the word I had so longed to hear...he said, "Mama." Now, certainly that first "mama" was special with all of my kids, but with Caleb, it felt different...bigger. He would say, "Mama" and his eyes would light up as he waited for me to squeal with delight. He said it and he meant it. He wasn't just saying the word, repeating the babble...making the next logical progression in speech development, he was feeling it...possibly for the very first time. Mama. I could see it in his eyes. Finally, he knew, he trusted...I was his.

Months later, the words are coming fast and furiously. Pointing and naming...so proud of himself, so happy with the results it brings. We still probably have six months of speech therapy, but the progress has been tremendous. He just needed more time. He likes me now too...a lot. Evidently, he just needed more time with that as well. :) Yes, we're still behind verbally and much is undecipherable to the outside listener...but not to me...every word is precious...

...and none sound more beautiful than, "Mama."

1 comment:

myfourgems said...

oh tiff, this brought tears to my eyes. the journey of life brings us to places we never imagined. what a beautiful, honest telling of your precious boy coming to know he has a mama.

grace was also a delayed speaker and so i can relate to that waiting to hear discernable words and the ability to communicate. glad he is coming along so well. you are an inspiration.