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. says

    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. 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. 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. 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. 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. says

    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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