Getting to those first words

Ronan made his first word like utterance at the age of 15 months. It sounded like “ge”. Maybe it meant yes or maybe again. By the time Ronan was 2.5, he had a sound for yes, no, and a very clear, “again”. At three, Ronan was still not talking.  Now almost 3.5, the sounds and language are coming quickly. Here is our story to getting those first words.

We took Ronan to the Developmental Vision clinic at 19 months to get their advice. They told us that he should do more container play. Despite our best efforts (see blog), we could not sustain Ronan’s attention on container play for more than a few days and it was never driven by his own curiosity. While I worried over this for a long time, Ronan eventually took his shaker out of the little basket on the front of the tricycle and put it back when he was 3 years 3 months. This was the beginning of his language. For all my efforts and toys I bought to make this happen, I don’t think my efforts made it happen.

At 22 months, Ronan was seen by a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT). They focused on communication behaviour, such as turn-taking, and joint attention. It turns out that Ronan was quite good at these things. Indeed, we began to see that Ronan was a good, if unusual, communicator. He had songs to indicate what he wanted to do. Whether he knew you or not, Ronan would quickly set about arranging your body into position to play his favourite games. If you asked him what he wanted, you would get a yes grunt or a no scream.

Around the age of 2, Ronan began to fill in blanks we left in songs. At first, it was just a grunt with the right number of syllables in their proper rhythm. Gradually this turned into grunts with the appropriate vowels. By the time Ronan was three, he could sing whole songs with vowels only. We, along with everyone else, were perplexed at why he had no consonants. Was it just language delay or did Ronan have verbal dyspraxia or autism? Nobody seemed to think he had any of these, but nobody knew what to do to get him started.

At about three years four months, Ronan started making choices. No longer did we have to go through a list of things that Ronan might like. We could say, Do you want eggs or porridge? We’d get an answer – “eehh” Soon after that, Ronan started asking for things that we wanted. After a period of giving him everything he asked for to encourage him to use language, we had to rain that in. But the flood of words did not stop, although trying to guess what a particular vowel combination meant was good mental gymnastics.  

At about the same time, consonants started to come. The first one was mam – on the last day of the Easter holiday. Then we got mama, baba (father in greek). A week later, we got papa, yaya, kaka, gaga. Ronan had made up his own game, in which we alternated with the sounds: ahh, ehh, eee, ooo, uuuu. I then tagged on the other sounds. As Ronan demanded this game several hundred times per day, I then started to change the vowels – mama, meme, mimi, momo, mumu.

A month later, we now have many more and we are prompting Ronan to form words. Often we have to set him up – say “momo”, say “more”. One of Ronan’s challenges with language has been to get the idea of opening his mouth. He often tries to talk with his mouth closed. Saying these letter combinations prompts him to open and shape his mouth. The SLT also suggested that we work in sound pairs, m/n, b/p, k/g, v,f. She told us about noisy and quiet (also called voiced and unvoiced), in which the shape of the mouth stays the same, but the use of the throat changes.

We’ve met several children whose parents said they did not talk until 5. While this caused me to suck my breath in, as one mum pointed out: “as long as I see progress, I know we’ll get there in the end.”

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