By Grace Runo Wanjiku
I was having dinner with some friends recently. The conversation soon turned to parenting, as it usually does when more than half of the people in a group are parents. One of our younger friends started telling us about how children learn to talk from their parents and that if a child has delayed speech it’s because the parents or the primary caregivers in the child’s life don’t talk much to the child. The rest of us tried to convince him that delayed speech is not always a result of lack of communication at home. He was however adamant and the rest of us just kept quiet and let him have his say. After all, you know how they say it hasn’t happened until it happens to you? We left him alone because we knew he would never understand the struggle of parenting until he became a parent too.
I don’t blame the young man though because I know it is sometimes hard to empathize with a situation you have never had an experience with. Take my case for instance.
I had a daughter who learned to talk way before she could walk, and way before her peers. I was young and full of pride, and I thought it was because I did parenting better than the other parents whose children were taking forever to talk. My daughter’s cousin who is the same age didn’t say anything meaningful until he was five, and I thought it was because of something his parents were doing wrong.
That is, until I had my son and he had delayed speech. He would say nothing except gibberish that only he could understand. It was frustrating because kids two to three years younger than him could communicate in full sentences while the only clear word he had was ‘dad’. He couldn’t even say my name. I remember an insensitive lady asked him in my presence why he couldn’t talk and he was already so big. That hurt so bad, but it made me think how insensitive human beings, especially mothers, make everything about their babies a competition.
We are always comparing our children to others, whether it be your child grew her first teeth early, walked before her age mates learned to crawl, or even learned her ABCs before she ever stepped in class. The truth is, just like adults, children are unique and have different abilities. One will have strong motor skills and strong limbs. He might go on to be a great athlete or not. The girl who learned her numbers might go on to be a great mathematician, or she might even come to hate math later in high school.
At the end of the day, unless the child has underlying problems he will catch up with his peers. He will eventually learn to talk. He will grow a beautiful set of pearly whites, he will run with the rest of the kids by the time he joins kindergarten, and he will know his letters and numbers just like his peers.
I know this to be true because I have had a girl who hit her milestones early, and a boy who took his sweet time with his milestones, especially his speech. By the time they are joining grade 1 they are mostly at par with the rest. However, if the child has any underlying problems, working with a professional could help to rectify the problem. I had to engage the services of a speech therapist and now my son is doing okay. In fact, he talks so much sometimes we have to ask him to keep quiet for a bit. So to the woman who thought my son was stupid just because he was not verbal early in his life, I have news for you. No, he was and is not stupid. You were just not listening carefully. He was communicating in his own way.