Of sleep, physicality, language, attention, and behavior, I find myself least satisfied with Martin’s progress in language.
When Martin first started to talk, he marveled us with his vocabulary. He proved himself able to absorb and retain most any word or phrase, and to apply it properly. Fork. Book. Brick. That’s not a telephone. Goal! He grasped sophisticated concepts like possessives. Mommy’s desk. The bicycle of Lola’s father. What’s more, we’re raising Martin bilingual, so he did all this in both English and Spanish, never mixing the two. English for Mommy. Spanish for Papá and Samara, the nanny. Perro. Pato. Baño. Samáforo. Oy, ¡que tráfico! When friends came to visit from Germany, he added Keksen and Donnerwetter! into the mix.
We were proud. As first-time parents who have limited experience with young children, Adrian and I equated a large vocabulary, and the ability to repeat phrases, with exceptional language skills. We showed him off, pointing from object to object. Martin, what’s that? And that? That?
Only later, after it was explained to us, did we realize what was missing. Martin stuck to single words, almost invariably nouns, and to parroting series of words. He never concocted sentences. He never combined his words into original thoughts. He never asked questions.
He never said, “Yes.”
In fact, Martin was echolalic. He knew which words attached to which things, but he had no concept of language’s interactive use. “I” versus “you” was foreign to Martin. His conversation was limited to repeating what he heard last.
Martin, would you like some water?
Martin, do you want a cookie?
You want a cookie.
Martin, may I kiss your tummy?
Kiss your tummy.
After six months of biomedical intervention, and almost nine months of five-times-weekly language therapy, not enough has changed. Martin has started using sentences, and also making original observations. Mommy is wearing a necklace. The house has a floor. And he can answer questions with yes, albeit sometimes on the second try.
Martin, do you need help?
You need help.
Martin, do you need help?
But although Martin now seems to listen to, and comprehend, what others say, he has not achieved fully interactive conversation. He has not yet ever asked a question, other than regurgitating what is asked of him. What are you doing? What are you doing? He does not use the command form; in its place he substitutes either a declaration—Mommy is going to play the guitar, instead of, Mommy, play the guitar—or a phrase he associates with the outcome he seeks, such as Kiss your tummy! when he wants his tummy kissed. He can’t use pronouns correctly. You want to watch Johnny Cash means, I want to watch Johnny Cash. (If you’re wondering why my three-year-old son wants to watch Johnny Cash, just let it go.) Often he refers to himself in the third person, as if he were Elmo from Sesame Street: This is Martin’s bed. Martin is doing pee-pees. Martin is drinking kombucha. (If you’re wondering why my three-year-old son is drinking kombucha, probably best to let that go, too.)
So I am disappointed with Martin’s language at this time, because it just doesn’t seem to be developing at the same clip as, say, his behavior. I hope that, six months from now when I post a one-year review of his recovery, I’ll have better language news to share.
Until tomorrow, then. I’m off to kiss your tummy!