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My Son Is a Late Talker ... and Here's Why I'm Not Worried

Photograph by Twenty20

When our third child, our first boy, was born two years ago, I had finally reached the point where I felt fairly confident in my parenting abilities. I knew what to expect, when to expect it and how to deal with the inevitable hiccups along the way without having to run to the doctor or immediately Google every diaper rash, fever, or bump and bruise.

As the months passed by, our son continued to develop right on track with his older sisters. He was sitting up solo by 5 months old, eating solids by 6 months, crawling by 7 months and walking completely unassisted by 10 months. It was around 11 months when he uttered his first word, "Ma-Ma," as he stood, arms outstretched, wanting me to pick him up.

In the following weeks, he added a few more words to his arsenal: "Da-da," "No," "Yes," and his own version of the word sippy, "Eeee-yyyy," which he said while pointing at the fridge.

Since then, he's added a word, or his version of a word, or two, but for the most part, he's figured out how to navigate his world by only speaking a handful of words and, no matter how many studies or checklists tell me otherwise, I'm not at all stressing about his limited vocabulary and here's why:

1. His pediatrician isn't at all concerned.

On our last doctor's visit, I was dreading the inevitable "Is he talking? How many words is he saying?" questions I knew would follow the physical exam. "Ummmm, kind of," I replied. "He says about five or six words perfectly and a few others not so well." Our pediatrician, who obviously realized I was a bit concerned, looked right at me and said, "Good. That's good for a boy. Boys usually talk later than girls, and he is just fine."

2. He's the most expressive child I've ever met. Even though his vocabulary is limited, my son is by far the most expressive 2-year-old we've ever had. He will wave his hands in the air and shake his head back and forth to tell you just how much he means "No." He will pinch his nose and wave his hands to express he thinks something smells bad or he doesn't like it. If I ask him to do something and he doesn't understand, he will crinkle his brow and say "Huh?" over and over until I explain in a way that he better understands. He covers his ears when he hears an airplane overhead or a loud truck go by. He responds to and engages with the world around him in his own unique way, reassuring me that developmentally he's right on track.

3. He thinks talking is a game. While he can sit for (what feels like) hours as I read "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" to him and accurately point out each animal by name and color when asked, the second I try to coax him to say "red" or "blue," he shakes his head back and forth, laughs, and says, "No, Mama, no!" For whatever reason, he's chosen this as his battle, and I'm hoping this means just maybe we will get lucky and potty training will be a breeze.

4. He has two older siblings to speak for him. Since the day we brought him home, his two older sisters have catered to his every want and whine, which I'm certain has enabled him to hold out vocally because he knows they will speak for him. If they get a snack, they grab him one, too. If he starts whining and pointing, they help him get whatever he wants. And if he gets hurt, his big sisters are right there to tell me what happened. Now that they are in school full time, I've already started to notice him attempting new words as he's figuring out he's on his own without them here.

5. He follows complex directions. If his shoes are missing or he can't find the toy he just had in his hand, I will tell him to go in the living room and look under the couch or go look outside by the play place, and off he will run to do just that. Knowing that he understands what I'm saying and can also follow two- or three-step directions reminds me that all kids develop at different times and on their own schedule, when they are ready, not when we are.

And if there's anything I've learned from my daughters—both of whom were talking in full sentences by 15 months old—by the time kids get to kindergarten, everyone is pretty much on the same level, regardless of whether they walked at 9 months or were spelling words by 18 months.

So, for now, I'm enjoying the silence while I still can.

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