Meet Ishaan – two years old, but taller for his age, smiles like fresh morning glory, is a cleanliness-freak, and loves to cuddle and roll over on the bed! He has a world of his own. When taken to a park, Ishaan is not excited about the swings or the merry-go-rounds. He would rather squat near a parked car, and thump its wheels. He does not ride the bicycle, but rather throws it flat on the ground to analyze the spokes of the wheels. He looks at the children playing, and claps as hard as he can. He joins the children running in the park but starts his own sprint in between. He plays his own little games, when at home. He speeds his little cars up and down on every possible item or person in his reach. He makes tunnels by pushing both ends of the carpet, and places a line of cars inside it. This can go on for hours, and he wouldn’t show a bit of ennui! When the game is over, he finds a new amusement quickly – like he stands head over heels and watches the world upside down, or performs somersault or makes paraphernalia out of the toys he broke, and builds houses out of blocks. When all the games are over, and Ishaan is tired of scribbling and painting the walls, mummy puts on the television for him. What does he watch on the television? Well, he claps along the audience in Tech Grand Masters, his favorite among the quizzes, and grins when a cooking show comes along. He carefully observers Vicky Ratnani cooking delicacies, and would scream bloody murder if you change the channel! When daddy is back from work, Ishaan slices fruits or shoots birds or races cars on daddy’s i-pod.
Ishaan does all of this except for one thing; he doesn’t talk. He points to objects he wants, and communicates his feelings in imaginative non-verbal babblings, and an occasional ‘No’ or few garbled syllables. He seldom responds when called by his name and hardly listens to what people are talking around him. The medical milestone for children to start talking is two years. In addition, a 24 month old should be able to speak at least 100 words, and combine two words together. Ishaan certainly has failed to reach the target. His doctor suggests that he needs speech therapy. Does he? Well, the concern arises in situations where a two year old child:
- Doesn’t use gestures to point objects
- Prefers gestures over vocalizations
- Faces problems in imitating sounds
- Does not understand simple verbal requests
Does Ishaan use gestures to point objects? Yes. Does he prefer gestures over vocalizations? No, because he always makes an attempt to verbally put forward his need, and not remain mute. Does he find it difficult to imitate sounds? No, because he imitates most kinds of sounds, from the vroom-vroom of a car to his daddy’s hoarse voice. Does he not understand simple verbal requests? Yes, he does because he actively responds to ‘eat’, ‘drink’, ‘give’, ‘take’, ‘do’, ‘don’t’, ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘throw ’, ‘catch’, ‘pull’, ‘push’, ‘open’, ‘close’ to count a few. Then, why doesn’t he talk? Ishaan’s language development trajectory is typical. He is amongst ‘Late Talkers’ – children who have perfectly normal development but may not speak until they are four or even more!
Thomas Sowell’s book ‘Einstein’s Syndrome’ vividly describes that late talkers are not to be confused with children who have hearing and speech impairments. (The book is named after Albert Einstein who did not talk till he was four and a half years.) Late talking can be accounted to a number of reasons, right from family history to issues in articulation of hearing-listening-understanding. I agree it’s prudent to undergo therapy before it’s late. However the therapy chosen should be based on accurate diagnosis, and not mild assumptions. Just like Ishaan many other late talkers are misclassified to have Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, or Down’s Syndrome, leading to the adoption of the wrong therapy for the child, and creating havoc and trauma in the little one’s mind. Late talkers’ speech-language skills suffer a set-back during early development. However, owing to their brains’ prolonged involvement in creative activities, a significant section of late talkers often develop extraordinary analytical, mathematical, reasoning, musical, and literary skills.
Ever since we are born, life’s struggles are hurled onto us – struggle to eat, struggle to sleep, struggle to walk, and struggle to talk. We have faced it and know that how difficult it is, and yet we fail to understand the same when it comes to our children. We all want our children to start doing things in two shakes of a duck’s tail! Six months passed since birth, and now Ishaan should have all the teeth. Few more months and he should say his first words. A year gone and now he should walk. A couple of months and he should socialize. Another year and he should talk. He is a kid, and not a robot! Can’t we spare the child some time to catch up on his pace?
Ishaan may not talk, but he sings ‘aaaaaa….baaaaaa…daaaa…waaaa’ and ‘chibe… chibe… tibite… tibite…’as he cleans his toy cars with a tissue that he discovered underneath the set of new diapers. He engages in sorting a muddle while garrulous kids play around him. The moment an airplane fills the house with its noise, he leaves the puzzle and turns his head all around to decipher the direction of the sound. The noise of the kids does not amuse him as much as the sound of the airplane. His brain is yet to tell him that it is time to talk. He is still busy exploring the world around him. He has yet not unraveled all the mysteries that baffle him in his day-to-day life! He is treading upon life unaware that he is moving towards future, and each day he is learning a new way of life, and a new way of expression. Ishaan’s parents may worry about his development as they are anxious of what will happen to him in the future. In their anxiousness of the future, they forget that he has a present too. Let him live his present in peace, and one day he will surprise every one with his intriguing skills!
“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.” – Pablo Casals