|can you hear me?||
21 January 2001
|Its hard to admit your kid might have a problem. You want to close your eyes and make it go away. Maybe when you open your eyes, he will have grown out of it. And maybe he will (though not in the blink of an eye). But maybe he wont. Not without help.
We took Damian to Dr. Jay Friday for a speech consult. Its become painfully obvious to me after three weeks of preschool that Damians verbal eccentricities, as endearing and frustrating as they are, are also symptoms of something else. The other kids come up to me as I sit on the floor: they ask me questions and tell me their thoughts, and if I ask if they like their snack or their toy or if they want me to read the book again, they answer me. With words.
Oh, he talks. But his speech is more self-reflective: he recites books to himself as he flips the pages, he narrates the exploits of his toy trucks and trains as he lies on the floor pushing them around, he recites "one, two, three" as he climbs stairs, and he repeats us, echoing the words we use. He plays with language, explores with it, enjoys the sound of the words and the images he creates, and thats delightful and sometimes extraordinary.
But he doesnt ask for the cup of juice sitting on the table; instead, he whines and points. If I ask him to point out the cow in the picture, hell point right at it, but if I ask him what that brown-and-white mooing beast is, hell remain mute.
Theres no such thing as a conversation with Damian -- at least, not one that goes both ways. He communicates his desires and preferences quite effectively with gestures and body language, but almost never with words. He can, certainly: he recently popped his head into the living room and blurted out, "help with toys?" (translation: Mommy will you lie on the floor nearby while I play with my Brio trains?). So he can ask, and sometimes he even does. Each time he does I feel this catch in my throat: hes normal after all, hell be okay after all. But within few days hes back to his mute ways. Hell come in and pull on my hand and whine until I follow him into his room. Do you have any idea how frustrating that is? Do you have any idea how scary that is, wondering when or even if hell ever reach out with words like a normal child his age?
Dr. Jays office is across town in Santa Monica. Dan came with us, which meant dropping the Toyota off at his office first. Damian was none too happy at the sight of Daddy driving off in the blue car. He wailed in the back seat until I pointed out the blue car just one car length ahead of us. Oh, okay. Thats all right then. At one point, I pulled alongside Dan. Who waved to Damian. "Damian, look! Daddys waving!" Damian saw. He glowed with a lovely, happy smile. And another a few minutes later when Daddy joined us in the red car. Then off we zoomed to Dr. Jays.
The moment we stepped into the waiting room, Damian spotted a fleet of three brightly colored trucks. Joy. We were ushered back to an examining room. Damian gripped a truck with both hands as he padded down the long hall and then immediately settled on the floor to play. When Dr. Jay came in, apologizing for keeping us waiting, Damian didnt even look up.
When Dr. Jay said Damians name, Damian didnt look up.
When Dr. Jay whistled high and long, Damian didnt look up.
Damian didnt look up until I knelt close to him and said in a soft voice, "Thats Dr. Jay over there." Then Damian looked up at the doc, pointed to him, and said "Thats Dr. Jay Gordon over there." And then returned to his laser vision focus on the toys scattered across the floor.
Dr. Jay asked us questions, told us a few things. Damian could be completely fine; some kids do take longer to acquire language skills and then it suddenly pops for them. By age three, he says, he directs most of the session to the child. He tells the kid "if you eat broccoli, youll be able to run around longer," for example, and the child listens and responds. Thats three and a half months away. Not much time to us, but a tremendous expanse of Damians life. He could change radically between now and then. And right now hes at one end of the bell curve of normal, it doesnt necessarily mean anything.
But it might.
Dr. Jay watched Damian guide beads along a wire and said its obvious that Damians smart. This verbal reticence happens sometimes with extremely bright kids: they dont talk because they know they can get away with pointing, but the day comes, a lightning bolt zaps that "eureka!" bulb in their heads, and they realize they can get a lot more if they ask for it than if they remain mute. Case closed, problem solved, kid self-cures in an instant.
Or it could be delayed speech maturation. It runs in families, and shows up more with boys. I seem to remember that my father didnt talk at all until he was at least two; Ill ask my grandmother if she can verify that. My brother might have been much like Damian. My mother says the frustration I describe, that "Just use words! Just tell me!" angst, rings a strong bell, but she doesnt remember clearly enough. Shes going to ask an old friend this week. If thats what Damian has, it would eventually clear up on its own but can be sped up with speech therapy.
The next likely culprit is some form of developmental expressive aphasia. One web site I found describes this as "a brain dysfunction that results in an inability to translate ideas into speech." The kid can understand perfectly, and acts normal in every other way, just doesnt talk. This requires therapy but has an excellent prognosis if its caught early.
Damian doesnt quite fit the profile, though. He doesnt exactly act normal. He tunes things -- and people -- out. He tuned out the doctor. He seems to be acutely sensitive to his world and sometimes just needs to close up like a clam on a turbulent ocean floor. To retreat. This sounds more serious than I think it is. Hes probably not autistic. He doesnt show those kinds of signs, not that I can see. He doesnt shut people out altogether. He smiles at us all the time. He asks for hugs. Hes cuddly and emotionally attached. And he doesnt do any of those self-soothing repetitive motions, like head banging and the like. Hes more normal than that, just acutely shy.
Dr. Jay left the room for a while to go call a speech pathologist. When he came back, Damian was feeling more relaxed with him. Dan illustrated Damian's ability for Dr. Jay, asking Damian about the picture on the wall behind us: a poster of Winnie the Pooh and company.
Dan: "Do you see Pooh, Damian?"
Damian pointed to the picture.
Dr. Jay: "Whos that, Damian?"
Damian pointed to the picture again, unwilling to say "Pooh."
Dan: "Wheres Piglet?"
Damian scrambled up to the bench, pointed out Piglet.
Dan: "Wheres Eeyore?"
Damian pointed out Eeyore.
He knows his Pooh. But also, as Dr. Jay said, "The possibility of it being a PDD (pervasive developmental disorder, including autism) is getting more remote by the minute."
Thank god for that.
Damian could have a hearing problem, either physical or neurological. When Dr. Jay came back from talking to the speech pathologist, he gave us the name of a hearing specialist. You cant just ask a kid this young to hold up his hand when he hears a given sound, so this specialist uses cartoons and such to measure a childs hearing range. Sounds kind of fun.
And I made an appointment with that speech pathologist. Were seeing her Tuesday. I dont know if I look forward to that appointment or dread it. A diagnosis feels final somehow, it sets us on a path as yet unknown.
Ive been walking around with a hole in my heart since Friday. Its not that I imagine theres something so dreadfully wrong with Damian, that hell grow up stunted and unable to have normal interactions, normal friendships and loves. Well, if you discount that soft whisper in the inner recesses of my brain that says "What if?" And says "Why him? Why my sweetie pie?" But mostly I know that this will help, this journey were embarking on. It will probably be fun for him, too, because speech therapy for little ones is designed to be fun. And if it coaxes him out of his shell step by sliding step, its a blessing above all blessings.
I long to have a conversation with my little boy in the car on the way home from school. I want to say, "did you like class this morning?" and have him say "I dunno." I want to say "did you go on the slide?" and have him say "I wanted to but I was scared." I want him to offer up: "Tyson kissed me on the cheek again" and "we ate pizza" and "I want to go play with trains now, Mommy." I want the simple back-and-forth of a normal parent-preschooler relationship. Im scared well never have it. Im heartsick that we may only be able to have it with professional assistance. I feel guilty, too, wondering if theres something I could be doing differently as a parent, if theres something Ive done wrong as a parent, to make this intervention necessary.
But the main thing Ive been feeling -- and I know Dans been feeling it too -- is an overwhelming tenderness. Damian seems so young, so sensitive, almost fragile. We want to protect him. We want to surround him with love. Weve been hugging him a lot the last couple of days, as if we can infuse him with sunny confidence through the sheer force of our love.
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copyright 2001 Tamar