Lacking verbal usage

Melissa_MJanuary 31, 2002

At 37 months old how many words should a child be able to understand and/or use? Would you be concerned if your 3 year old child addressed his mother, every other adult, his siblings, and his father as Mommy, but had learned that your 2 friends had names and called them by the correct names? (We have corrected him every time he called us Mommy and told him our names and had him practice saying them over and over). I'm beginning to get the feeling that the only time any communication is used with his child is when he is in our presence. I knew he didn't speak much but I never dreamed he had NO IDEA what some common words I would expect 3 year olds to use such as dog, cat, story, boy, man etc. I sat down and read him a story the other day and asked him "where is the doggie" and he pointed to the woman on the page. I asked him where is the boy? Then he points to a cow!!!! NO WONDER HE CAN'T SPEAK! No one in his family has taught him any words!!!! At what point should you expect that a parent would work with teaching their child to speak?!

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Parent/child communication starts from birth -or before if you want to argue that. Every day builds to the time when a child will some day speak on his/her own. It is a continual process from birth.

What you are describing sounds like a big delay in language skills that will take professional intervention. He needs an evaluation, diagnosis and a speech therapist. Maybe it is a lack of stimulation, maybe there is an inherent developmental delay, or likely a combination. My own 2 y/o doesn't use the words "man" or "woman" she labels all women "mommy" all men "daddy" and all gray haired men and women "grampi." It's like she uses the words two ways, as a noun to label all adults, then as pronouns for the specific ones that really are her parents/grandparents. She knows the difference, and those of us close to her know the difference. But it can be ackward in the grocery store when she calls the bag boy "daddy." And really ackward when she calls the clerk going gray early "grampi."

I'm not a professional, just from experience and a passion for watching my kids learn language in particular, this is my opinion of a timeline. Between 12-18 mos. a child should be able to do an activity like you described of reading a book and putting a finger on several named items, but may or may not attempt saying them himself. If he does attempt, it might not be accurate pronounciation. Around age 2+/- they will probably use the words themself. Between 24-30 mos. then start using 2-4 word sentences and ask for what they want. I.e.: More juice; where puppy go?; Play outside. Within a few months of that, they'll use short sentences to tell you more than what they want, things about their day: See Grandma today; Mommy go bye-bye.

At age 3, most kids are using sentences, but it is very common that only parents and others close to them understand them 100%. Often parents need to be a translator when the child is talking to someone else. A few will speak well enough to have a conversation with just about anyone, a few will not be using sentences quite yet and will get there soon enough on their own.

It's more of an order of events than a set schedule, the range varies. However, I think the situation you describe is not one of those that just needs time. I think I'd be concerned enough to at least ask a professional if my child wasn't using language the way I described above. I believe he needs evaluated and given intervention, the sooner the better. If he is helped now, he can be close to caught up by kindergarten so as not to struggle in school. Once he gets to that point, if people don't understand him, they'll just quit trying and he'll lose out on a lot, from help with school to friendship.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2002 at 9:21PM
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At least your 2 year old distinguishes that older people are grandparent-like. This kid called MY MOTHER (who is a great grandmother and 80 years old) Mommy. His father made no effort to correct him that he was Daddy, not Mommy. My mother asked this child what is your name and his mother jumped in immediately and said he can't say that quite yet, it's too complicated for him . . . his name is Will. My mother then asked him how old are you. He didn't have a clue. Not even holding up fingers. He doesn't know 10 words! He doesn't know how to ask for juice, say he is hungry, wants to play, say cookie or MINE! We are probably as close to him as any other adults. If he used words we would hear him try. Now his mother is beginning to make excuses for his lack of verbal sklls and his father believes he is extremely precocious. Until the parents are willing to accept the fact that this little boy has a problem, he can't begin to be helped. I see him every week and his lack of progress and the list of excuses for him grows worse. He needs help and it has become obvious to us that his parents refuse to acknowledge this. No one wants to admit that their child may have a communication problem, but ignoring it certainly isn't going to help him any. It may even actually harm him.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2002 at 10:00PM
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That is sad. They are in denial or something. Maybe they need to know he is not alone, that it happens to a lot of kids, it doesn't mean they are bad parents. Maybe they think they are protecting him by intervening when people talk to him. Maybe they personally feel judged every time that happens. Once they take the first step they will probably feel good about doing the right thing for their child and be thrilled with his progress. Does he spend much time with other kids so the parents can really see there is a delay? I hope you can find a kind, supportive way to encourage them to get some help for their son's own good.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2002 at 10:43PM
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You've posted about this child before, right? Like the parents feed him like a "dog" as you explained it and he has to beg for food off other family members plates instead of having his own. There were many many other issues, too, am I right? If so we talked via e-mail for a day or so about the situation. It's still not sounding any better.

Yes, by this child's age he should know people's names. DS is 33 months old and knows everyone's names. He even knows my first name is Leslie and his father is Jeremy. He has many grandparents and was getting confused from all the Grandma's and Pap's so we started calling them Grandma or Pap and then they're first name (like my Mom is Grandma Nancy) so he knows who we are talking about. He's said people's names the first time he met them, after being around them and getting to know them. He's known and said his own name for months now and also knows that that baby in the baby pictures with Mommy and Daddy is Shane when he was little. This child you're talking about should also know the difference between people and animals. But talking to him and saying the words doesn't mean squat unless they're showing him what the things are. Like you can't just mention a cow in a conversation and expect him to know what you're talking about. He needs to see pictures and relate the words to what's being said. It's really simple to do that in every day stuff. Like show him a picture and tell him it's a cow and then you're driving down the road and see a cow and show him that or ask. Tell him milk comes from cows and they eat hay and simple stuff. They learn a lot from just little convertsations. DS didn't really care to count and we didn't push it or try really until last week. He's counting to 5 already just by playing with him and asking him how many this or that there is in the picture and stuff and reading books with counting in them.

You have to talk to kids and spend time with them for them to learn many things, though. My BIL and SIL are learning this just now because they're son started Kindergarten. He was always a smart kid. You could tell him that that was a humpback whale in the picture or a specific bird and he'd know to tell you later. MIL taught him so much but his parents never went over the things with them at home. It didn't do any good to only be taught and have someone go over the stuff like once a month. He needed to hear it more often and be quizzed. So the little boy went off to Kindergarten knowing that when you pointed to something the color red,it was the color of Grandma's car, not that it was red. Some colors he didn't know. He couldnt' really count consistantly, not even to 10. MIL said even him writing his name has a lot to be desired. He should have improved over time in school but it really hasn't. Now he's in all day Kindergarten to catch up and his parents keep him home from school when it's inconvient to they're schedules so it is more than likely he'll be held back. It's a shame because this child is not slow or anything. He was so smart, he just didn't get the time he needed. But that's another story in itself.

Good luck and really I think something has to be done for this child. He can't go on with his life being like this. There is too much for him to learn and enjoy in life.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2002 at 8:19AM
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Since his problems are so severe, I doubt his parents lack of parenting skills have caused his problems. Unless they keep the child locked in a room alone where he never gets to hear anybody talk, then by now a normal child would have picked up some language skills just from hearing other people talk, even if they are not talking right to him. I doubt it is as simple as no one in his family teaching him words.
Do his parents have an opportunity to see him in groups of other children his age? I really realized how severe my daughter's problems were when I had her in a preschool and saw how different she was from the other chldren. Doesn't his pediatrician notice a problem?
I think if you really want to help this child, instead of condemning these parents you might try to gently suggest to them that perhaps their child has a condition that needs to be addressed. If you come across in a friendly, caring way rather than with an attitude that they have caused this, you might have better results.
It sounds like his parents are in denial, which is normal to some extent. Accepting that your child has a condition that he is not just going to outgrow is a very painful thing, and they will certainly need all the support they can get. I know from experience that it makes it even more painful when people blame you for your child's problems. I think the best thing you can do it be their friend, and gently keep bringing up the possibility of a medical condition. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2002 at 2:58PM
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I remember your other posts on this little boy. I think that if you think that the boy has a problem and you feel some responsibility to help him you will need to talk to the parents directly. This is a difficult path to go down.

Please try to be kind. It is very difficult to hear that someone thinks there is something wrong with your child. You cannot simply say the parents are bad parents so the child has these problems. Rarely are developmental delays so simple. Lack of parenting skills may have made it worse, but it probably isn't as simple as it might appear on the surface.

Most parents do not "teach" their kids to speak. It is a continuing process. Stephanie did a great job describing it. Parents can encourage the kids to speak, but a child with a speech delay will still have it even if he has parents who are dedicated to helping him learn to communicate.

Children with developmental delays CAN be helped. They need a professional evaluation and there are services available in most communities for preschoolers with speech delays. The hard part will be getting the parents to acknowledge that a problem exists. That is where you come in. Just posting here about what bad parents they are (maybe true) will not help the child.

Good luck to you.


    Bookmark   February 4, 2002 at 12:19PM
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