I understand gestures and pointing but not sure if everyone else will.
May 17, 2010 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Should I enroll my non-verbal child in kindergarten in September?

DS was born end of October of 2006. He's energetic, fearless, defiant, helpful, affectiionate, he recites his phonics and numbers, points to things he wants (and when he doesn't get it, use a chair to get things out of his reach), sings along to some songs (with slanted words) and have about 10 words in his working vocabulary. He clams up entirely when told to speak instead of pointing to stuff, or break down in frustration.

He understands most things we say to him, but he simply will not talk. Sometimes he will recite whole sentences of what we say to him back at us, and sometimes he makes up his own language that sounds remarkably like English and gibber in long sentences.

He has never been to day care or preschool. I do take him out to places where there are other children to see how he socializes, and he does play well with others. The only thing that really sets him off is that he does not speak. He does play a kind of charades to get his point across. (If he wants to watch A Matter of Loaf and Death, he pretends to bite his arm and growl. Princess and the Frog? Hop hop hop hop.)

Should I enroll him in kindergarten or should I wait a year? He's eligible by Canadian standards, since he will turn 4 shortly after starting JK if he starts this year. I get conflicting info from my family and friends - some say he needs to be with a group of speaking children, others tell me that he could be bullied or treated differently. Some even say that kindergarten could be traumatizing.
posted by Sallysings to Education (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I get conflicting info from my family and friends
Do you get info from your doctor, too?

Has there been any diagnosis? My advice to you would be different depending on what, if any, diagnosis there is.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:00 PM on May 17, 2010

What does your pediatrician say? Has your son had any sort of assessment? (e.g., is he on the autism spectrum, could he have a auditory processing disorder, etc.?)
posted by scody at 3:01 PM on May 17, 2010

Ped didn't say anything conclusive, since he's not very cooperative when it comes to testing. She basically told us that physically his development is perfectly normal, and will likely speak before he turns 5. We will have to take him again soon. (we just moved provinces and needs a new Pediatrician.)
posted by Sallysings at 3:07 PM on May 17, 2010

I would keep him out. Kindergarten is completely optional. His teacher is going to have between 19 and 24 other to deal with on top of your child. He won't be getting the one-on-one attention he probably needs to transition into that sort of environment. If he has a diagnosis and can have a support worker in class with him that might be an option.
posted by Abbril at 3:09 PM on May 17, 2010

My aunt teaches 3 year olds and frequently takes children who aren't yet potty-trained, knowing that within a few weeks they'll have trained themselves with the help of a bit of peer pressure. At that age, for most of her kids, it's not distressing -- but it's enough of a push that they choose to potty-train. Similarly, I think your son might experience some peer pressure to speak -- but again, at just-4, it would probably not be overwhelming or upsetting, just enough to motivate him. When he's older, if he hasn't started speaking more, it could be more aggressive and bullying. So I would probably give kindergarten a shot, to see how he did.
However, as with all things parenting, you know your child best. Is he the kind of kid who would be very sensitive to other students not understanding him? How good is he at letting you know when something upsets him? Can you start him and pull him out if it doesn't seem to be working? Perhaps his teacher could be your eyes and ears when he's in the classroom. If you're not locked in, there seems to be very little to lose by giving it a shot and seeing how he does. With a sympathetic and aware teacher, I doubt much would happen that could risk traumatizing a fearless kiddo like yours.
posted by katemonster at 3:12 PM on May 17, 2010

I put my December son in when he was 3.5 and not too much of a talker. The children were a spectrum of levels (albeit, mostly on the low side developmentally). We lucked out in getting a fantastic teacher for JK and SK that helped him bloom. I was always prepared to pull him if he wasn't going to get much out of the experience. The first months was a very gradual introduction to JK with super small classes. The school will have seen his type before and hopefully have tools in place.
posted by saucysault at 3:12 PM on May 17, 2010

I have a friend whose son sounds exactly like your son. He just would not speak. The mom got a group of similar aged boys together and we'd all meet to have our children play at the park together hoping that her son, in a laid back, no pressure environment, would open up and talk. He didn't. Not a word! He played wonderfully though - just wouldn't utter a peep. The group of boys (my son included) soon realized that this guy didn't talk, shrugged their shoulders, and they all continued to play with him. It was no big deal to any of them and they adapted this.

Then came along kindergarten. Since he was old enough, he was enrolled in kindergarten. The first few days he was pretty quiet. Then it all changed. He's now a talkative, happy, well-adjusted guy - and one of my son's best friends. His mother still isn't sure why he wouldn't talk - whether it was selective mutism or not.

The mom was very communicative with the school and his teacher as to his not speaking - she was very involved. She wasn't a mother hen or anything - but kept in contact with his teachers on a frequent basis to make sure he was doing alright, not being bullied, etc. In social situations when someone would ask him a question and he'd look at you silently, the mom would say something like, "it doesn't look like he feels like talking right now" and left it at that. She didn't bug or nag or beg him to answer. She was laid back and cool about it, not pressuring or guilting him into answering.

While I do agree that children can be cruel, they can also be so sincerely sweet and adaptable to the differences in others.

Of course I am not an expert in any sense of the word, but I'd sign him up for kindergarten. He sounds quite smart. Being in a school setting may be what he needs. I'd also keep close tabs on him through the teachers. Call them, email them daily to make sure things are going well. You can reassess if things don't seem to be working out. But I'd give it a chance.
posted by Sassyfras at 3:15 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your public schools are super well equipped to both diagnose his problem and help him overcome it. A five year old with only ten words in his working vocabulary has something going on other than just stubbornness. Frankly I don't know how you've not freaked out before now, and its possible that you're doing him a big disservice by not getting this looked into in more detail (because the earlier the intervention if he does have a problem, the easier it is to fix, given the way that kids learn language).

Not only would I not hesitate to enroll him in Kindergarten, but I'd push his school district right now for therapy/assessment over the summer. With luck and a little work, its quite possible he'll be speaking well by the time Fall comes.
posted by anastasiav at 3:16 PM on May 17, 2010 [17 favorites]

So, he's 3 now, will be 4 in October. I think that's way too young for kindergarten, and turning 5 at the start of 1st grade is also too young. Preschool, nursery school, a year of another environment that has educational benefits, but isn't academic or terribly structured might be enriching.

His resistance to language suggests that it's become a good way to manage his environment. Growing up is all about learning control - of hands, feet, bladder, etc., so kids are naturally likely to find and use opportunities to control the world around them. I'd be as neutral as possible about speaking. I'd also put him in an environment where speaking will be useful, and an environment with kids would do that nicely. My kid didn't talk until well after the 3rd birthday. A visit to family, with lots of cousins chattering and having a blast launched him into speech. The only reason to encourage speaking is that it really does develop that part of the brain. However, I wouldn't be really worried yet, just watchful.
posted by theora55 at 3:20 PM on May 17, 2010

Also, it's Canada. There are lots of social services in place. You have to be in touch with your GP and get the ball rolling there. But I have friends in Alberta and their kids are getting lots of different kinds of early intervention help. It might not be a big deal - development does have a way of being wonky sometimes, but really, I'd urge you to ensure it's just that and nothing else, because these are valuable years for language acquisition.
posted by barnone at 3:21 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would see about getting him hooked up with a speech pathologist now regardless of whether you decide on kindergarten now or not. He should also have his hearing assessed by an audiologist especially if the sounds he is mimicking are not on target and his words as you say are "slanted". The speech pathologist will likely be able to help you arrange the hearing tests.
posted by cecic at 3:27 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

If it were little llama, I'd keep her out. My thinking would be that it would put her in a position where she didn't really have the skills necessary to get along, either to communicate with other kids or tell a teacher if something were wrong. I'd think I was putting her in a position where she was in over her head, and I'd be worried she'd feel bad about herself and fearful. I'd wait a year and let her do some more growing.

That's me, though. I can see how philosophically some people might be of the mindset that it's good to challenge kids, but your kid (like mine) has no pre-K or nursery school to give him the kind of experiences that would let him know it will all be okay in the end.

/the kid who ran away from kindergarten screaming and had to be chased down by her teacher on multiple occasions.

posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:10 PM on May 17, 2010

He definitely needs to be evaluated by a qualified speech professional.

Is it possible he's just a late talker? Could be.
Is it possible it's something more serious like auditory, neurological, Apraxia type problems? Could be.

But if there IS a problem, he has better chance in the long run the earlier he starts therapy. Better safe than sorry.
posted by texas_blissful at 4:13 PM on May 17, 2010

As soon as you put a kid in school who doesn't speak, the school is going to want to do some assessments to figure out what's going on. They have professionals for this sort of thing. If he can't handle "regular" kindergarten, they'll probably put him on some kind of special education program at the school. At least that's how it typically works in America. But here kindergarten is mandatory, and is for kids turning 6 that year, and most preschool is private, not public. [[so for the Americans who are really shocked by a 3 1/2 y/o going to kindergarten, it's not the same thing in Canada as in the US, it's more like pre-K.]]
posted by ishotjr at 4:14 PM on May 17, 2010

He really should have a comprehensive developmental evaluation. I'm not sure how it works in Canada; in the US if the child is older than 3 these evaluations are done through the public school system.
posted by Daily Alice at 4:14 PM on May 17, 2010

So are the choices send him to kindergarten or keep him at home? I would suggest a middle ground where he delays kindergarten by one year and in the mean time you send him to a part-time preschool and see how he does. I think he may need a liltle more attention and time for transition. And in the mean time, get a professional evaluation by someone versed in developmental delays.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:54 PM on May 17, 2010

It's hard for me to say because I'm not Canadian and I don't know your system, but here in the US I would say get him into the public schools as soon as possible because they are legally required to give kids a lot of help and they pay for it, too.

He needs to see a developmental pediatrician as soon as possible, because there is no way we can really give you the information that you need.

I can't diagnose him from here but he shows signs of (mild) autism. If that is the case, the earlier the intervention happens, the better. Treating autism is a race against time.

There could be any other number of things wrong as well. He desperately needs testing.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:16 PM on May 17, 2010

Can please not diagnose children over the Internet or impose the US school system in Canada? Children are not put into separate classes here based on ability, children are placed with their age group and if he doesn't go into jk this year he will enter sk without a year of preparation and into a group of children that have started to form social groups. My school district offers a short summer programme to orientate children to jk if they haven't been in daycare, maybe look to see if that is available. There are a lot of services out there and the local school is the best place to learn about and access them. Since he is not cooperating with testing, the school will be the least invasive place for him to be accessed unknowingly.
posted by saucysault at 6:41 PM on May 17, 2010

I teach autistic preschoolers (age 3-5) in the U.S. Your child's vocabulary is EXTREMELY limited relative to typically-developing children his age. As a special educator it's my opinion that he needs to be evaluated immediately for a host of developmental disorders. Furthermore, assuming Canadian kindergarten is somewhat equivalent to American preschool (from reading the above answers), he will not be able to assimilate into regular education with a vocabulary of 10 words and reliance on gestures. I don't want to attempt to "diagnose" your child in a public forum but as has been said above, he does show signs of autism and early intervention is the most effective form of treatment for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder. His lack of vocabulary, use of jargon (the gibberish) and lack of understanding of the effectiveness of verbal language are all classic signs of autism. Please, please, have him evaluated and find a new pediatrician who will be able to tell you with authority that he is not achieving cognitive milestones.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 6:59 PM on May 17, 2010

You need to have your child assessed by a qualified Speech Language Pathologist. The decision about whether to go to Kindergarten really depends on what the context is. What would you be sending your child to Kindergarten for (or keeping him out for)? You won't be able to effectively make good decisions about the priorities or what these choices mean until you have pursued proper assessment. If your pediatrician is giving you the run around you need to pursue this further and more forcefully. FYI: I'm Canadian and I'm a parent and professional in autism intervention.
posted by kch at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2010

ishotjr: "so for the Americans who are really shocked by a 3 1/2 y/o going to kindergarten, it's not the same thing in Canada as in the US, it's more like pre-K."

Thanks for pointing this out because I was confused by the age thing.

To the OP:
If you're in ANY way concerned about your child's development than you should find a pediatrician that will listen to you and request the appropriate testing. Don't worry if people think you're over-reacting (some will and maybe you are) because it's far better to get tested and be wrong than to postpone and regret it later. Timely intervention is critical for many issues. This is one of the reasons that so many people are encouraging you to go ahead and enroll in school...because schools (at least in the US...not sure about Canada) have the knowledge and the resources to let you know if there is a problem and develop a plan for dealing with it.

I think most kids of this age really enjoy being around other kids. You might think of doing a test run in some kind of program (partial days, a few days a week) and see how it goes. Kids this age really are too young to bully each other in any serious way so I wouldn't worry about that aspect. The main thing is that you like the program and are comfortable with the teachers.

Good luck!
posted by victoriab at 7:13 PM on May 17, 2010

Not trying to freak you out, but seconding the assessment. Our son was right on the cusp of being a late talker, and still isn't a garrulous sort, but he was talking a lot more than that at 3.5.

Aside from big scary things like autism, which hopefully it is not, it could be a muscle problem with his jaw, lips, or teeth--this is what you need him checked out for. If talking is hard work for him, he may be holding himself back, and needs help before he develops bigger speech problems, like stutters or slurring, that will be a big deal later in his life.

Your pediatrician's response kind of baffles me, honestly.
posted by emjaybee at 7:32 PM on May 17, 2010

Lots of good advice above. If you do decide to proceed with JK, find out if the teacher would be okay with really gradual entry. Maybe shorter days or fewer days.

(JK is more like preschool, if I understand correctly. It's not mandatory and it's the year before kindergarten. K is also not mandatory, so, in theory, you should be able to do gradual entry on your own terms. I have a friend whose son goes to K half days here, simply because he gets too tired.)
posted by acoutu at 8:08 PM on May 17, 2010

Pediatricians often take a wait and see approach, primarily because while they are well versed in any number of topics having to do with childhood development, health, and illness, they have no specialized knowledge of speech and language development. A speech-language pathologist does.

Some kids talk late. We don't know why that happens or what causes it. We do know it tends to run in families but not all the time. Second (third, fourth) babies may talk a little later than a first baby, especially if it has a sibling doing all of his or her talking her him. Kiddos with less demands (that are, for instance, allowed to get chairs and get their own things instead of asking for stuff) may take a little longer to talk. About 30% of these kids do indeed grow out of it and no harm done. The other 70% will need some assistance. We can't tell by looking which kids fall into what group, so generally we advocate a wait and see approach until age 3, then services for all late talkers after that point with the goal of getting kids caught up by the time they start school. If a kid is still behind when they start school then they are at greater risk for learning and reading difficulties, so I would REALLY advocate an evaluation and intervention services.

I am in no way diagnosing your kid over the internet by the way - maybe he's a late talker, maybe there is something else going on. The only person who can discern that is the therapist who looks at your kid. You describe a lot of really nice communicative skills, though, and I wouldn't get freaked out by the scary words that get thrown out willy-nilly around here. Just find out what's going on and figure out how to help.

To address the question: should he start Kindergarten (or preschool? I'm not well-versed in Canadian school system)? I would tell a family of a late talking toddler to totally put him in preschool and see what he picks up from peers. Kids are pretty adaptable and understanding at this age and I wouldn't be concerned with his feeling an "otherness". At the same time, you are the expert on your child. How do you think he will do?
posted by lilnublet at 8:33 PM on May 17, 2010

I have a son that was diagnosed with speech delay, he sounds much like your son. We were terrified to send him to regular pre-k because of his lack of speech social skills. I am so glad now we sent him he blossomed he absolutely need the example and interaction of kids that were speaking. He went from single words to now a year later full sentences. It gas amazed me how much difference we've seen. I say send him.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 8:48 PM on May 17, 2010

Thanks for all the replies (and the messages sent with more links). Not to say that I haven't been freaking out, but I came from a family where freaking out is kept to a minimum. I was also a very late talker (until I turned 4, I sang slanted words like he's doing now) His pediatrician has been giving me the "oh you're overreacting" speech, but we've just moved from ON to AB so we'll be needing a new one anyway.

Kids here goes to preschool "for" 3 (from 2-3), JK for 4, SK for 5. I was going to just put him in preschool at the time, but he wasn't potty trained. He just recently trained himself fully around 4 weeks ago, which is why JK is even an option.

To lilnublet: Personally, I think he'll take other kids' food at snack time and run away during class when everyone is supposed to be sitting down. Then he'll proceed to walk home by himself and knock on my door halfway through the day. True story - his dad used to do that in kindergarten.

I will be taking him to a learning center for assessment. Thanks for the advice, everyone!
posted by Sallysings at 8:48 PM on May 17, 2010

Oh all this autism being thrown around our son was thought originally to be autistic but in two different screenings he was determined to only be speech delayed you should seek a professional opinion it upsets me a bit the usually cautious hive mind is ready to diagnose from a forum.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 8:52 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

A friend of ours with a child just a bit older than ours had a very similar issue. At age about 3 1/2, the speech pathologist was very very helpful, he's caught up very quickly.
posted by wilful at 9:31 PM on May 17, 2010

Just to be clear, I am in no way able to diagnose your son with autism, but it's a really serious issue that needs treatment, and having had some experience with children with autism, and having read a decent amount about it for a layperson, I really think it is valuable that you get you child checked for it (and for other problems).

It's kinda like if your kid had the symptoms of a sprained ankle--obviously I can't diagnose it but if it seems similar, then it's worth checking it out so it doesn't get worse, you know?

Hope I didn't freak you out, and if it happens that you want to talk about autism, please feel free to memail me.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:33 PM on May 17, 2010

Someone very kindly pointed out that I have no idea what I'm talking about, and after reviewing your question and realizing that I was both generally backwards and specifically backwards about one symptom of autism in particular, I completely retract my earlier comments.

I read about him repeating entire phrases and his behavior reminds me a bit of a child I know very well who has autism and I flipped out a little bit. Even though my motives were good, it was still inappropriate and I apologize. I also apologize for any fear, uncertainty, frustration, irritation, or exasperation I caused you.

I suggest that you go with the advice of the intelligent professionals here who have recommended evaluation. Luckily they are more knowledgeable than I am!

Best of luck.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:44 AM on May 18, 2010

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