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When Your 3-Year-Old Isn't Talking Enough

Photograph by Twenty20

At 2 years old, my son clearly said 10 words.

It wasn’t enough and I was worried. He was meeting all his other developmental milestones, but his speech was lagging. By a lot.

His pediatrician and I opted to "watch and see" over the coming months. Maybe he was a late bloomer. Maybe time would allow his vocabulary to “pop”? I hoped time was what he needed. I prayed he would find his voice.

By 2 1/2, he had made significant progress. He was doing well, adding words and phrases every day. He would often say, “What dat, Mama?” I would reply and could see him mentally log a new word in his internal dictionary.

More times than I could count, I’d hear, “Mama, I show yoooou” when something was lost in translation. He’d grab my hand and, without words, communicate just what he needed. Despite exponentially increasing his word count, as my son approached 3, I knew he needed help. And it broke me.

I didn’t want him to struggle. And he did—every day.

He would yell in frustration at his siblings when they didn’t understand him. He’d ignore me when he knew what I wanted to hear, but couldn’t grasp the right words to reply. At play group, he played alone, because the other kids didn’t know how to interact with a peer who was their size, but lacked their vocabulary.

He didn’t know that his speech wasn’t up to par, but I did.

I talked to—and with—him all the time. I hoped more conversation would help. As we spoke, I gently corrected his pronunciation and articulation. We sang songs and read books. I asked questions and encouraged him to reply. I tried to make talking a fun game.

I’m sure it all helped. But it wasn’t enough.

He didn’t know that his speech wasn’t up to par, but I did. It was time to explore some extra support and I felt so hesitant, and yet, so ready. My son has words to share and more than anything, I want to give him the tools to express his feelings, dreams and desires.

The other night, I scooped him into my arms while he was sleeping. My smart and robust 3-year-old boy. I cradled him in my arms and rocked him with his long legs draped over the edge of the chair. I wondered what was next, who would help us, how long it would take. I whispered, “I love you sweetheart,” and he groggily replied, “Wuv you too”.

It was then that I knew, no matter the road we had ahead of us, we had the magic words that would carry us through.

I was strong enough to support him, and he was brave enough to overcome this challenge.

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