Most parents I know want their children to fit in. At school, at parties, at church and with friends, fitting in is important. Standing out from the crowd is OK too as long as it’s for the right reasons. One can see this in school when one student is clearly better at soccer than her classmates. Or at the talent show where a young boy plays Mozart instead of lip-syncing to the Jonas Brothers.
Every parent wants his child to feel accepted. A child’s ability to act and communicate appropriately within context plays a big part in this.
I’ve taken this part of raising children for granted. Our first three children spoke early and often. It wasn’t until the fourth child came along that I realized we were in for some challenges in this area.
Our youngest son, who will be three at the end of the month, has trouble communicating with children his age. To be honest, he has great difficulty communicating with anyone besides his mother.
He tries to speak. In his mind, his is speaking. But other than a handful of words here and there, he’s unable to string a sentence together. He speaks with inflection which tells us he is frustrated when others cannot understand him. That Kai recognizes others do not understand him provides us with hope because that’s a step in the right direction.
We’ve learned that each child develops language on his or her own timeframe. It does little good to compare our son to his three older siblings and their rate of speech development. Each one is different. But, by the age of three, he should be further along than he is today. That we know.
We’ve discussed his situation with our pediatrician. The State of Washington provide speech therapy for children of pre-school age, and we’ve been blessed to live in an area where such skillful counselors and therapist can work with our son. I know many people have his best interests in mind and are working to help him make progress so he’ll be ready for Kindergarten.
But it’s still painful to watch. Especially when his frustration mounts and he lashes out physically. This makes him stand out for the wrong reasons.
I tucked his sisters into bed tonight, and then his brother. When I came to Kai, he pointed at his bed and said a few words I could not understand. I asked him to repeat what he said, and this time I understood the last two words: “by me”. He wanted me to lay next to him like I’d done with his sisters.
So that’s what I did. He wedged himself next to me and gently touched my nose and cheeks. He stared at my face for a while without saying anything. I believe his touch is a way of communicating with me. I wish we could converse. We know he has a long road ahead of him. We pray his speech will improve. Not just so that we can converse with him but so he’ll fit in with children his age.
But for the time being, I have to look for alternative ways of communicating with my son. Like allowing him to help push the lawn mower with me. Or watching his face light up when I toss the baseball before he smacks it across the yard. This is the first time I recall him asking me to lay next to him. I stare into his eyes and wonder what he’s thinking.
“I love you, Kai” I tell him before I kiss him on the forehead and turn off the light.
Kai just looks at me and smiles before leaning over, grabbing my neck and giving me a slobbery kiss on the cheek. He doesn’t say a word.
He doesn’t have to.