The Struggle to Speak



Everyone says boys speak later than girls. So, at first, I accepted that as why our son struggled to speak.

But then, I started to hear kids younger than my 18 month old son speak in spontaneous sentences. The seemingly gifted children verbalized appropriate numbers and colors. Friends casually talked about everything their little ones said, as I felt pangs of fleeting jealousy.

I continued to read to him even when he clearly tuned me out and desperately verbalized everything we did. I mimicked every sound he made. I modeled baby sign language, letting my son turn the pages on the book, hoping he would absorb them that way. He didn’t.

At his check up, our pediatrician recommended Early Intervention’s (EI) state services, who partnered us with a team of excellent therapists at 606 Speech in Chicago. They diagnosed our son with an isolated speech delay.

The older he got, the more frustrated he became. He screamed and yelled. I cried.

When he was really at a loss, he planked. His whole body got stiff as he declared war against leaving the park. That action became his only defense against authority figures – parents, Grandma, Grandpa, aunts and uncles. Everyone wants a voice – to be heard and understood and our sweet little man struggled to find his.

Progress seemed slow at best, despite the twice-a-week therapy sessions. I hated practicing those damn speech exercises more than my little one; I didn’t want to force my baby boy to blow a whistle if he wasn’t ready. I wanted more fun time with him and felt like it was never going to get better. Was this all my fault since I spent 40 plus hours a week outside of the home? Was it my DNA? Was it the result of sleep training?

But, slowly, my son began to mimic almost everything he heard. He started to regularly use sentences and imitate reading at about two-and-a-half. Friends and family were right; his vocabulary quickly multiplied.

Eventually, his vocabulary and speech exploded. He now verbalizes exactly what he wants. Today, I sometimes eavesdrop and giggle at his animated conversation with friends.

These days, it’s hard to imagine that he ever had a speech delay. It is pure joy to watch our son’s confidence grow. I can hardly slow him down from his exercises as he blows chocolate milk all over our floor. For me, the whole experience was a lesson in overcoming obstacles. I know life will knock him down, but I hope he’ll always maintain the confidence to try again… and always find his voice.


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  1. 1


    This is such a good reminder for those of us that worry and compare (which honestly is probably most parents). Slow down – kids develop at their own speeds. I need a reality check sometimes…thanks Julia!

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  2. 2

    Laura says

    Going through this now with our 27 month old son. EI was quick to want to label him autistic, but he has NO other signs except speech delay. Your post gives me hope that the sign language, exercises, tears are all going to be worth it. We’ve seen huge improvements just in the few months he’s been in therapy. I’ve had the same feelings of self doubt as you and have shed a lot of years at my desk after a therapy session. Here’s hoping…..

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  3. 3

    Sunny says

    Our son is two and uses maybe five or six words. But he always finds his way. I’m not worried at all, even our pediatrician say it’s normal.
    I think in almost every case the kids just have their own speed.
    Just wonder why doctors react so differently to the same thing.

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  4. 4

    Amberiella says

    It is generally true that boys develop speech later because the floods of testosterone that masculinize the brain cause the left brain hemisphere (where the primary speech center is located) to atrophy slightly, and is also why males tend to be less language oriented overall.

    Also, sometimes children (usually males, but not always) can experience a very rapid growth of the math/spacial reasoning areas that is so dominant that the growth of the speech centers is neglected for a long time, resulting in very late speakers. Those often turn out to be geniuses.

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  5. 5

    Barb Touw says

    Early intervention is the key! My oldest son was in the less than one percentile for his speech at age 3.5. With hard work by the time he entered kindergarten you would never know he had a delay. He is now 13 & talks non-stop.

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  6. 7


    Been in speech with my child since 18 months. Also went through EI here in SC. At 5 she still has some issues forming certain sounds, but her speech is incredibly improved. It’s been a long road, but now she’s ready for K in August!

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  7. 11

    Wendzilla says

    Went though the same with my son. He had chronic allergies that caused fluid build up in his ears that kept him from hearing correctly. He had 4 sets of ear tubes before the age of 5! I recommend hearing tests for anyone going through speech delay. He is now a very talkative 12 year old.

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  8. 13


    I had him evaluated every year for three years and he was always right on the border of qualifying for services. Finally at 5 he qualified. But only because his school uses common core curriculum and they don’t teach letter names, just sounds. He couldn’t make half the sounds. He’s been getting services for 6 months and I’m noticing a big improvement. It’s sad that kids who need it can’t get services until it interferes with their schooling

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    • 14

      lori says

      I had to respond to you. I can’t ignore the blatant misinformation you are peddling here. There is no such thing as ‘common core curriculum’. There are common core standards. There are tons of different curriculum programs a school may choose to use. Lots of curriculum is correlated to the common core standards as nearly all of our states have adopted the standards so that, get this, there is a standard set of skills all American students will acquire no matter where they live or go to school in this country. Common core standards DO require students learn letter names AND sounds. Students—key word there: STUDENTS—can qualify for public school supplied speech therapy ONCE they are students. He wasn’t a public school student until he was 5, upon entering Kindergarten. If you had such a serious concern, you could have gotten private speech therapy for him but in all honesty would probably have been turned away being told to relax and give your son a chance to develop at his own pace those 3 years from the ages of two to five.

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      • 15

        yoene says

        Public school systems often service children starting at age three, if they qualify. My son received services, for speech, at the local elementary school, after his third birthday. He received services through 6th grade, but the ones he received before kindergarden saved him from being too far behind from the start. There are usually state services available for children under three, through the Program for Infants and Children. Each program has different threshholds for qualification. Alyssa’s experience is not incorrect or uncommon. Good for her for pursuing her child’s best interests.

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        • 16

          lori says

          In your own words IF THEY QUALIFY. That means if they are found to have a speech and language disability/delay. I did not say anything remotely near what you are implying by stating good for her for pursuing her child’s best interests. I spoke against the dishonest LYING about the common core and the incorrect/dishonest anecdote about her child not receiving services.She herself said he didn’t qualify then proceeded to rail, again—dishonestly–against the big bad common core. Soo sick of it.

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  9. 17


    After having two chattering girls, I was blessed with a boy who had a speech delay. He didn’t babble as a baby. The pediatrician kept telling me he was fine. Finally at 18 months I demanded further evaluation. His hearing was great, and nothing physically was keeping him from speaking. He just didn’t have anything to say. After a year of speech therapy he finally uttered “Mama” for the first time and he hasn’t quieted down since.

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  10. 20

    Kara says

    It’s so good to hear that your son is talking. We are struggling with this now. Gabe is 20 months old, but has the speech of an 11 month old. He says 5 words and then there is his made-up word “gunk”. I am so tired of hearing that word.

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  11. 22

    Gramma of a child with Apraxia says

    Sometimes a speech delay is more than that. My grandson has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, which is actually a motor function disorder. The child knows what they want to say, but the tongue, mouth, lips can not form the words properly. Your pediatrician should be able to refer you to a good speech pathologist that would be able to diagnose if CAS is the issue. This is not autism or related in any way. Intelligence and cognitive abilities are not affected. My grandson is almost 3 now, and after a year of regular speech therapy, he now has about 25 words in his vocabulary, and is trying many more. We celebrate every word he says.

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    • 23

      Jenn says

      My son was never officially diagnosed but his preschool speech therapist said based on the issue she was seeing her unofficial diagnosis was Speech Apraxia. She said he was to young for it to be official at the time. He had help for 2yrs in preschool then tested out of needing help about 2/3 of the way into his Kinder year. His speech is not perfect but it is in the normal range and getting better all the time.

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  12. 24

    gertie says

    We are going through a speech delay with my son too. He turned 2 in March and at that time was only saying three words which he had been saying since before he was one. It is very frustrating for us and for him. Our pediatrician also referred us for therapy and he sees his speech therapist only once every other week. I could increase it if I wanted but I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. We are very thankful for the services as they have helped. He now says 17 words spontaneously but still isn’t eager to try many words. We are closing the gap slowly but surely and hope he will start talking more soon. He is a very good non-verbal communicator using a lot of gestures etc. and that helps sometimes.

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