Sunday, May 29, 2005

My Late-Talking Child

*Written June 28, 2005

A happy baby.

Yesterday, we went to San Pablo for Garret’s weekly session with his speech therapist. He’s been on therapy since February. Garrett’s a bit speech-delayed. He’s only 2 years old. But, I heeded the advice of a development pediatrician to whom I brought Garrett for an evaluation when he was 27 months old. I guess I’m a natural worrier because I was the only one in our families (both sides) who was insistent on seeking professional advice on Garrett’s condition. They saw nothing wrong with him. But I had to hear that come from an expert. I couldn’t take chances since the time that I noticed that other toddlers his age were already ahead of him in language milestones.

It really bothered me that most kids his age knew how to say and use a lot of words already. And, Garrett, at the time had not even started calling me ‘mommy’. He had around 40 words in his vocabulary but he wouldn’t say mommy. My husband said that if there was someone who should be evaluated, it was me, not our son. So, it was solely of my own volition, without anybody knowing it, that I had Garrett evaluated. But, it turned out that there’s really some truth to the adage that a ‘mother knows best.’ The doctor’s finding was that Garrett was delayed by 6 months in language skills and he recommended two things. One, that I enroll Garrett in speech therapy. And second, that Garrett undergo a BAERA test, which is a hearing test, much similar to the EEG (electroencaphalogram test) in procedure.

Garrett at 2 on his first school field trip. We enrolled him to a toddler class at 1 yr and 10 months old.

We were not prepared for the results. We couldn’t believe that Garrett was hearing impaired to some extent. His left ear has moderate to severe hearing loss. The good thing is that his right ear is okay, and his pediatrician said that the ‘good ear’ could compensate for the impairment of the other ear. Whew! It was a relief to learn that. We didn’t suspect that something was wrong since Garrett loves music, he hums his lullabies, and he moves in tune to the beat of dance songs. He also follows commands. He’s scheduled for another test this June to make sure that the initial finding was correct (I pray it’s otherwise…) and that if there indeed is a loss of some degree, that it has not progressed.

When I became pregnant, I was a sucker for information related to pregnancy, then to materials on babies when I gave birth. I found most use of the internet during this period. After learning about Garrett’s hearing impairment, I went straight to an internet shop and scoured the net for relevant information. Aside from the net, I would also go to bookstores and read up on child development. I stumbled upon materials on autism and I was truly relieved when the dev’t. pedia ruled it out. Garrett definitely was just speech- delayed. My husband would tell me that he was still enjoying the pace that Garrett was going through. He said that I was just so impatient about Garrett’s progress. Maybe he was right to a certain extent. But, more than that, I just wanted to make sure that everything was right and that we wouldn’t regret not having done anything immediately if there truly was a need for early intervention.

Looking back, we really had waited and prayed for Garrett. It took a while before I got pregnant after getting married. I even took some medications. On one ordinary morning after having my breakfast of tapsilog in Snack Shack (a canteen on campus where me and my college friends loved to eat then), I felt like throwing up; it was the first day that I missed my period. Maybe I was really excited about getting pregnant, I took it as a sign that I might be, and so I immediately bought a preg test kit. The next morning I was reluctant to use it since I knew that if I were pregnant, it was still too early to be detected. But because I was too impatient to wait 2 weeks, I used it nevertheless. I couldn’t describe how I felt when the line on the pregnancy test kit started turning pink…. I had, on several occasions, already tried the procedure and ended up regretting spending money for a self-help preg test kit. It was the first time that I saw a distinctly pink line!!! I thought that perhaps the test kit was not accurate since it was the cheapest brand. And, I asked myself how could it already indicate a positive result when I was just one-day delayed? I showed it to my sister and she was also doubtful. Thus, to relieve myself of my agam-agam, I went to see my OB Gyne that same day. Unfortunately, my OB was out and it was her husband (also an OB) who saw me. He said outright that it was too early for him to do a pregnancy test on me. I didn’t tell him immediately that I had already done the test myself because it was my very intention, in going to the clinic, to confirm the result I got through a hospital-administered test. So, I showed him the kit, and upon seeing the pink line, he congratulated me and said that there was no need to repeat the test… I felt heady with excitement and anticipation! But, I still couldn’t believe it…

A few days after, I had some bleeding. I thought I had my period. It turned out that the fetus was still establishing itself in the uterus, so said my OB. I was given meds to sustain the pregnancy. I went to see Penagbenga in Baguio when I was two-months on the way. When I had quite a heavy bleeding I feared that I already might have lost the baby. I was praning. Upon reaching Manila on the way back to Los Banos, I was just supposed to go to the comfort room inside a mall, but, feeling uneasy, I made a side trip to the pharmacy to buy another test kit. I used it right there and then in a public restroom. When a familiar pink line became visible, I was relieved, but not totally… I bought 5 test kits, all in all during my first trimester, with each one turning up the same positive result. I just needed to be sure because I wanted to be pregnant and stay pregnant very badly.

My pregnancy was eventful. It wasn’t easy. But, I made sure that I ate the right foods. I binged on apples and oranges. I religiously took 2 glasses of Anmum a day and took my vitamins (I did not, even for a single day, missed taking them!). I went to my OB for regular check-ups. I underwent an ultrasound test three times. I read materials (print and electronic) on pregnancy. I even bought books. I listened to Beethoven and Bach.

I did all the things that I knew to ensure that my baby was going to be physically and mentally normal. Hence, when Garrett turned one and started falling short of people’s expectations, in comparison to other children, I was so hurt. It was as if I failed somewhere. I was already impatient to see him walk when he turned 1, because most kids I knew were already walking at that age. He walked when he was already 14 months. I think Garrett was just buying time. He’s very cautious until now. He seldom bumps his head, falls from a chair or hurts his fingers. When he started walking, he was sure he could do it and, hence, saved himself from many episodes of tripping and falling.

When relatives or friends would relate how other children Garrett’s age are faring and what they can already do, I can’t help but be defensive (but, most of the time I keep my feelings to myself so as not to offend people). I believe that Garrett is just growing at his own pace. It doesn’t mean that all the other kids his age are better than him. He could in fact be far more intelligent than most kids judging by some of the things he’s capable of. He’s got a very retentive memory, for instance. Although he can’t speak straight and converse like other kids do, he seems to have memorized even the dialogues of the cast of children in Barney videos. He imitates the actions even before Barney and the kids do them. I say this is a feat since we have a number of Barney videos and even though Garrett repeats watching them, still, there are just too many of them for a fairly intelligent child to memorize even the littlest of actions of the cast and Barney himself.

I came to a point when I had to convince myself that nothing was really wrong with Garrett. I was thankful to the doctor we went to because he said that what Garrett had wasn’t really a big deal. He said that although there was a problem with Garrett’s language skills, something could be done. The first thing I did was to turn to the internet for help! And indeed, I found help. I chanced upon two books by Thomas Sowell: 1) Late-Talking Children (first edition) and 2) The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late (second edition). I am very grateful to my friend, who happens to be Garrett’s ninang, for looking for the book’s first edition in the U.S. and giving it to me as a present last Christmas (SALAMAT MARENG GHI!!!). The books aren’t locally available. Sowell’s hypothesis is that there is this small group of children who seem to have a development delay, in language development particularly, but who manifest above-average intelligence, and who eventually outgrow their language difficulties and excel in abilities that are controlled by the left side of the brain. The left side of the brain has been proven to dictate mathematical, spatial and musical (playing instruments) abilities. He said that the probable reason why kids belonging to this special group are delayed in language development is that the left side of the brain also controls speech development, and that the part of the brain where speech is developed is the one that compensates for resources (energy) needed for the other abilities/skills to develop. It is during the early years that the child’s brain receives stimuli which induce it to develop. And the components of the brain tend to compete for resources at this stage. Sowell was inspired to write his personal experiences because there isn’t much literature on this aspect of child development. He has a son who did not speak until he was 4 but who caught up in language development fast and did not manifest any other symptom of development delay while growing up. He established a network of parents with similar children and, in the book, he narrated stories of how unfairly the children of these other parents had been wrongly diagnosed and labeled (commonly with autism) by doctors and therapists. The children grew up to be normal healthy individuals, excelling in the fields of math, science, and music. The book truly inspired me and made me see things from another perspective. Who knows, Garrett might just be one of the kids being referred to in the book? Why not? The thought is not far-fetched, come to think of it; his father is very intelligent…

Garrett has achieved some ground recently. He now tells what he wants. He says “pack away, take off, give, put back, get, good night, thank you” and many other words. He can identify colors such as red, yellow, blue, green, and even pink, purple and orange. He’s now a pro with shapes. Although his speech is not yet straight (most of his words are just approximations in terms of pronunciation), what’s important is that he seems to be telling me, “Hey, mommy, I’m ok. No need to worry.” And when he calls me MOMMY very sweetly, I sometimes could not help giving in to his manipulations very typical of a two-year old. It is by far the sweetest, most endearing sound to my ears.

I hope other mothers in the same predicament may find some inspiration from this piece.

At 2, after visiting his Lolo Boni at the Veterans Memorial Hospital, Q.C. 

At 3, celebrating his birthday at his first school, G.F. Tots and Kids in Los Banos, Laguna.

Garrett was fixated on the water fountain.

At 3, taken at Enchanted Kingdom, Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

At 4, taken at Ocean Adventure in Subic.

With Teacher Maris of Shining Time Play Center where Garrett spent his preschool years.

We had to coax Garrett into wearing this costume for his nursery moving up program. 

This is a milestone. Garrett started being able to sustain a long phone conversation when he was 6.