Look Who’s Not Talking

“Is he walking?” Michael’s pediatrician asked, one of the long litany of questions she posed from a written list on the computer screen.

I answered the questions distractedly.  It was warm and Michael was fussy; Melinda was crawling on the floor rifling through the diaper bag for the stash of Cheerios she knew was in there.  “Yes, of course he’s walking.  He’s been walking since 12 months.”

“You understand, these are just routine.  I’ll get through them quickly,” she smiled, nodding at my girlie in the corner.  I pulled the plastic baggie out from the pocket where I kept them and started handing them to her one at a time.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “It’s just a little crazy now with the two of them so close in age.”

“I understand,” said the doctor.  “OK, so next, has he been saying no and throwing temper tantrums?”

I thought for a moment.  The temper tantrums, definitely.  When Michael was stopped from doing something he wanted to do, or put in a situation he didn’t want to be in, he would scream and thrash and throw himself on the floor.  We were slowly learning his triggers and trying to avoid those situations: keeping his favorite toys with us, making sure we didn’t have to wait too long in a waiting room or restaurant, always having something he would like to eat with us because he didn’t like so many things.

But did he say no, or even shake his head no?  I honestly couldn’t remember.  He made his displeasure clear in many ways, but in those two specific ways?   “Michael is very agreeable and easy to manage when everything is OK in his world.  But when he doesn’t like something, he definitely throws tantrums.  But now that you mention it, he doesn’t really say no.  He just cries and gets mad.”

The doctor typed in a few sentences and then went on.  “Is he talking a lot?”

I knew this would be the next question.  All two year olds said no.  It was a classic hallmark of the terrible twos.  But not my son.  “No, he’s not talking a lot.”

The doctor looked over at Michael.  Indeed, he hadn’t made any sort of words or noises since she’d been in the room.  Melinda overpowered the room with her mindless chatter about the Cheerios, the books in the corner, the paper on the table, the Pooh Bear on the diaper bag.  But Michael was silent.  He smiled as I lightly held his hips while he sat on the table.  The doctor scrutinized him for a second.  “Is he talking at all?”

My heart sank.  I hadn’t even really noticed it with everything going on; he should be talking now.  But he wasn’t.  He had absolutely no words, nothing.  “No, he’s not talking at all.”

Her fingers, poised over the Y and N buttons before, began typing whole words into the computer.  “Can he understand language, respond to a simple command?”

Again, I had to stop and think.  The last few days replayed themselves in my head, getting meals for the kids, playing in the little blow up pool in the back yard, driving to the grocery store.  “No, I guess he doesn’t,” I realized aloud.  “That’s not good, is it?”

The doctor typed more in the computer and then met my worried gaze.  “It could be completely fine.  Boys develop later than girls, so you can’t really compare them even though they are so close in age.  And also, since they are, it could simply be that she does so much talking that he doesn’t really see a need to do so.  Do you know if you or your husband were late talkers?”

“I was,” I responded instantly.  I remembered the story my mother always told of how I didn’t speak until age 3, but when I did, I said a complete sentence:  “I want a cookie”.  Before then, my two older siblings were always there to communicate whatever I needed and interpret as well.

“Well then we’re probably fine.  I will go ahead and put Michael on the waiting list for speech therapy.  He might not even get to the top of the list for six or nine months, but by then we’ll know whether or not we’re dealing with a simple delay or if there is something more at work here.”

Something more at work here?  “What else could there be?” I asked, trying not to sound too panicked.

The doctor smiled warmly at me, the smile that I am sure she was taught in medical school.  The “let’s not worry until we have something to worry about” smile.  “Likely nothing you need to worry about.  We’ll see you in six months, ok?”  She shook my hand and walked confidently out of the room, leaving me with my two kids, a mountain of worry and a mess of Cheerios all over the floor.

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