Speak now, or...
January 24, 2012 8:33 PM   Subscribe

A child, is 3 1/2 years old, and has never spoken a word. Parents (very, very born again Christians) finally decide, maybe they should take him to a doctor to get checked out or something. This is my grandson. MeFites, potential jury pool, what is going on with this beautiful young boy? And how do I quell the urge to knock my daughter and son-in-law's heads together like Larry and Shemp? Go look up pissed-off in the dictionary, I'll wave back.

re my daughter and me, it's complicated, so I don't need a schooling about that.
posted by timsteil to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There could be absolutely nothing wrong with the kid. I had a friend who never spoke a word until he was four, and then it was full sentences. It was like he was waiting until he could do it correctly. :) Only a doctor could make the correct diagnosis. No need to stress about it until then!
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:37 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with Two Lights. 3-1/2 is late but it's not pathologically late.I had an acquaitance who didn't speak for years. One morning her mother was frantically searching for her coat and the little girl said, "If you're looking for your coat, it's in the closet."
posted by Bruce H. at 8:51 PM on January 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

Well if I read your previous question correctly he id growing up hearing more than one language spoken.I have read this could cause some speech delay. Must own son didn't talk much at all till three and he is now in grad school so there is that. Good to get checked out tho.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:53 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

If it helps I didn't speak until after age 4, I have a young cousin who was the same story. We're both pretty fine and normal now.
posted by Cosine at 8:53 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does said child have older siblings that speak for him? Does he sign at all?
posted by Sassyfras at 9:00 PM on January 24, 2012

At 3 1/2, he could be evaluated for free by the local school district. The parents will need to write a letter to the special education department requesting the evaluation.
posted by Nickel at 9:15 PM on January 24, 2012

First this. Maybe this.

I spent the first couple of years of my life living in a country where my parents' native language (English) was not spoken. Although they spoke English at home, mostly, they were also trying to master the local language. I am not sure if this, or the fact that I wasn't around any other English speakers, or something else, was the cause, but I was a fairly late talker (although more like 2.5, not 3.5, years). Since your other question mentions that they are in an East African country, perhaps this is related (although perhaps English is spoken more routinely in their country of residence, in which case, ignore this).

From anecdotal evidence*, I don't think 3.5 is problematically late for talking. What would concern me is that, based on your linked question, your daughter and son-in-law may not have the inclination or locally available resources to look into this and determine whether their child's silence is simply natural human variation or a feature of his psychological or neurological make-up that needs to be somehow addressed. You mentioned in the other question that they are home for a relatively long period; maybe now is the time to influence them to look into this, medically. Some convincing may be required. I don't really know what you should recommend, but I would guess that your rhetorical approach should consist of forceful suggestions supported by a lot of research**, and that anything resembling the "jury pool" comment*** should be avoided.

I really wish you good luck. I'm aware that my answer isn't all that useful, but this seems like a very important question.

*I have a friend who learned to read only slightly early, but didn't speak in complete sentences until after he could read, for example, and I've heard all sorts of stories about variation in the onset of speech, although I do not have children. I also nth Bruce H.; this is apparently how I learned to talk.

**Head over here and here, and look at the things cited, to start. The second link has a list of social preconditions for language development; it might be worth trying to find out if any of these is missing in your grandson's life.

***At which I lolled, but maybe they won't.
posted by kengraham at 9:22 PM on January 24, 2012

Our youngest son turns 3 in March, and he just babbles mostly, but sometimes says individual words. Our eldest son was the same way, but now, at age 9, functions in French (he goes to French school), English and Japanese (he attends Japanese school when we reside in Japan each year).

We're a dual-language family, so language acquisition can sometimes take a little longer for children.

Does your grandson appear to understand what you're saying? Is there any communication going on? If there is, it could just be the case of a late bloomer. Not a great situation.

As for your anger, it seems to me that it could be coming from feelings of helplessness - your daughter isn't listening to you. I don't know how to change this situation, but anything is possible given time and effort.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:57 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he understands what's going on, acts and reacts appropriately, I wouldn't worry. Friends of ours had a kid who didn't speak at all til around age 5. It had to do with some physical development issue, vocal cords or something.

But his hearing and cognition should be tested.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:12 PM on January 24, 2012

Nickel: "At 3 1/2, he could be evaluated for free by the local school district. "

Based on the link in the OPs question to a previous question, this child is not in the United States, and is not a citizen of the country where he resides.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:38 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I study language acquisition.

While I agree in principle with other commenters that there still could be no problem, especially if the boy is exposed to multiple languages, it is really fairly rare to have no productive language at all by the age of three and a half. It is definitely a good idea to get him assessed. It could be any of a number of things, from nothing at all, to hearing problems, to social (autism-spectrum) issues, to psychological issues like elective mutism.

That said, here are some questions that might help guide your thinking (with the caveat that these should not replace an actual analysis by a professional who actually observes him).

1. Does he appear to understand language? Does he carry out instructions or point to items when they are labelled? If so, how complex are the instructions he can carry out - i.e., is there some indication he is understanding grammar (how the words are put together) or simply keying in on a few words he might know? If he appears to understand a lot but simply doesn't say anything, then it is less likely there is a problem and the problem (if it exists) is less likely to be severe.

2. Does he understand and follow social cues? Does he follow the gaze of people when it's appropriate in conversation or play? Does he try to communicate with people using gestures? Basically, if he is clearly very socially oriented and communicative, even if he doesn't use language yet, that decreases (but does not eliminate) the possibility that he is somewhere on the autism spectrum.

I have a lot of sympathy with your situation. I wish you the best of luck dealing with this and also dealing with your daughter and son-in-law. I know this is far easier to say than do, but remind yourself that your goal here is to get your grandson assessed, not to win an argument or show them that you're right. Try to communicate your deep worry about the kid, rather than any blame you might have for them, however deserved it may be; they will be far more likely to respond well to the former.
posted by forza at 3:55 AM on January 25, 2012 [14 favorites]

My controlling father abhorred baby talk, even from babies. He considered it mistakes. So I went from saying mama to saying nothing until I was 3 and change and could speak in complete and grammatical sentences. In my case it was elective, it was my little toddler way of feeling in control.

They should certainly have him evaluated, if they trust the medical opinion in the country they are in, but being in a foreign country might just be what's adding to the pressure. Boy is learning both English and the native language, it can slow down some toddlers until they figure out what's what.
posted by lydhre at 5:31 AM on January 25, 2012

I don't know what's going on with your grandson, neither does anyone here, and neither do you or his parents. I'm so sorry, but your difficult job is to work with your children to find out if your grandson needs help and then to get him whatever help he needs. In many cases, time matters - the faster treatment starts, the better the odds. The worst thing that happens from getting unnecessary treatment is that some time and money is wasted.

Perhaps you can help them find someone who both shares their worldview and has the necessary professional skills. A quick search for "christian speech therapy" directed me to this page. Perhaps you can find something similar in your area or Calvin College can direct you to someone appropriate in your area.

Good luck.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:39 AM on January 25, 2012

Nthing that it could be absolutely normal. My brother was raised in a bilingual household and did not speak until he was almost 4. And then he wouldn't stop talking. :-)

And evaluation never hurts, tho. Make sure they evaluate his hearing -- subtle hearing loss can delay language acquisition.
posted by LittleMy at 8:58 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was beyond the age of three and hadn't said a word. Parents decided they would take me to the doctor right after we got back off holiday in Spain. During the holiday a Spanish maid came into our room every day to tidy up. She greeted us with a jolly "Buenos Dias!" every day. Last day of the trip, she says Buenos Dias and I say Buenos Dias right back. Then I start speaking in full sentences.

It might be okay.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 8:05 AM on January 26, 2012

« Older I need a doctor who can help me with my problem...   |   Looking for a bakery that sells state-shaped cakes... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.