I had debated for a long time whether or not I was going to blog Fernando’s speech journey. It’s his journey. What right do I have to blog about it? However, a friend mentioned that a lot of parents might benefit from hearing our journey, and to be honest with you, I wish I would have read someone’s journey to let me know that I was not alone, that I was not making a mistake speaking Spanish to my son, that he would talk. So with that, I write on.
We decided to speak Spanish and only Spanish to our son before he was born. It was important to both his father and I that he not only understand but speak it fluently. As an elementary school teacher, I saw that students of all ages picked up English quickly so this was not a concern of ours. A concern that we did have, however, was that his father and I did not speak Spanish to each other. And even worse, I felt, and to this day, even feel , that my Spanish is not good enough. But that mattered not. We decided we were only going to speak Spanish and that was that.
Fernando was born on February 17th at 8:03 p.m. There were quite a few complications with his birth. He was born with the assistance of a vacuum, among other complications, but I got to hold my son a few hours after his birth.
Speaking Spanish to our son came natural to us both. It helped that our mothers both are native Spanish speakers. Naturally, they spoke Spanish to him as well. I bought bilingual baby books for him and he seemed intrigued even at only months old. I also looked for Spanish baby programs. I found a few. The bilingual community is just growing so resources are limited.
Our son was a happy baby. He was not difficult, he was hitting all milestones, except one. He did not babble. I did not worry until his first birthday when I bought him an “All About Me” poster and for the “First Words” section, I put “TBD” – to be determined. I mentioned this to someone and they commented with, “He doesn’t say ANY words?! Not even Mama or Papa?!”. Their abrasive response made me question where my son should be with speech, and naturally I started googling. Sure enough, by 12 months, babies should have 1-2 words, and significant babbling. My son had none.
His pediatrician (whom I loved) seemed unconcerned about his lack of babbling and speech. She said it was common in homes where both parents spoke two languages, and that it was especially common in boys. I was not convinced, especially when I started noticing that everywhere I went, babies his age were happily babbling or even saying words. By his 15 month appointment, there had not been any advancement in his language. His pediatrician still hesitated, but made the recommendation to Regional Center. She said I had to be on top of them.
I called, let them know that I was a teacher, was well aware of the system, that my son only understood Spanish and that he needed to be tested in his home language. He was tested within weeks. My 15 month old son tested at 17-19 months in receptive language and 0-7 months in expressive. It was very difficult to see that number.
Shortly after he was placed at a Bilingual Speech Center and my son started receiving Speech services at 18 months old. I believe he was the youngest client they had ever had.
His SLPA (Speech and Language Assistant) was nothing short of amazing. While we had considered introducing sign language to our son before, we had seen mixed reviews about whether or not it would inhibit his speech. His SLPA told us sign language would help significantly, but we had to make sure to use the words we were signing for at the same time. My son picked up signing quickly. His first sign was “more” or “mas”. That was also his first spoken word. We signed for more, no more, share, angry, please, sorry, and thank you.
Slowly but surely, Fernando started making sounds, then words, then sentences. His first word came at about 20-22 months. At 2/2.5 years old, Fernando was making word approximations. By 2 years 8 months, my son’s language EXPLODED. I mean full on, comprehensible sentences…in Spanish, like, “Esa musica no me gusta!”
So while I fast forwarded his speech gains, it was not all rainbows. It was HARD. Crying, constantly questioning myself, hard.
For a very long time, my son was pretty much non-verbal. 2 years and 5 months to be exact. That meant that he could not express himself. That meant if something or someone bothered him in the playground, he could not advocate for himself. So my son would hit. A lot. I stopped taking him to his Gymboree class because I felt like I was being judged. My husband and I would freak out everytime he was next to a kid, fearing that he would hit. Our son would hit me and my husband, he would hit other kiddos. Sometimes it was just to get their attention. Or to hug them. Or sometimes he was just really angry. And we would work with him. We would love him. We would read on how to help him. I also had wine readily available in the fridge for those days when I felt like I had failed.
Failure. I felt it all. the. time. I couldn’t help but think it was my fault that my son wasn’t able to express himself. I felt that it was my Spanish’s fault. I mean to some I bet I sound “pocha”. (I hate that word. How dare someone diss someone who is making the effort to speak.) Who was I to raise my son in a “Spanish–only” home? What was I thinking? And social media didn’t help. I felt like everyone was posting their toddler speaking full on soliloquies. I remember texting my best mom friend, who also raised her kiddos in a Spanish only home, and she told me that in no way was it my fault. That he will speak. And I cried.
I found some notes at work I had written last year, the words “18 months” were underlined, and there were also questions I had for our on-site Speech Pathologist. The first question I had written read, “Will he ever talk?”. I am crying now as I type this because I can hear him having a full on conversation with his dad in the bathtub. They’re playing and talking. I mean sometimes my son is so loud, and it’s still hard for me to regulate his volume because his voice is the most amazing sound in the world.
Advocating for my son and taking him to receive speech services was one of the greatest decisions of my life. And while there is a stigma about receiving services, I did not care. I was educated enough to understand the pros far outweighed the cons. A very close relative once commented, “Well we know that he’ll always be slow.” I remember deciding right then and there that I would not comment to them about this. Had they said this to me in front of my son, well…hell hath no fury… but they didn’t. I didn’t need to prove my son’s intelligence to anyone. I think he’s brilliant. But that also doesn’t matter. He thinks he’s brilliant. He is confident. He has a voice. And that was all thanks to Speech and the tools they provided for us.
Speech would give us tricks on what we had to do at home. We only went for an hour a week at first, and then twice a week, an hour each time, however, my son’s speech would not have improved had we not used the tools provided. We had to emphasize every word, repeat every effort he made, decipher every word he was trying to say to repeat every word he made. I wanted my son to know that I was there for him. That I was making every effort imaginable to understand him and repeat him. I did this so he wouldn’t give up trying. And he didn’t. He was and is resilient.
My son will be three on Saturday. He has two speech sessions left at the Bilingual Speech center. Once your kiddo turns three, Regional Center will test them and if they show signs of Autism, then they stay with Regional Center. If they don’t, their local school district will take over.
Side thoughts: Speech and Autism sometimes go hand in hand. I know this because when I was looking for Speech help, most articles and information were for kiddos with Autism. I never suspected or had any reason to believe my son had Autism so I felt like this information did not help me. And I remember driving by a billboard that read, “SPEECH DELAY? Possible sign of Autism”. One of the reasons I felt inclined to write this was because I could not find someone who just had the speech delay. My son does not have Autism. He was tested by two different psychologists. I could have declined these tests, but I did not want to be a parent in denial.
Testing: When it was time for my son to be tested by the district, I was surprised and thrown when they said he was going to be tested WITH a translator…NOT with a bilingual psych. or speech and language pathologist. I agreed, but after speaking with my husband, I just couldn’t figure out how these non-Spanish speaking experts were going to figure out what help my Spanish-only speaking son was going to receive. Even now as I type it, I still don’t get it. How does this happen?? Why was that the only option offered to me?? We emailed the director and asked that we would prefer not to use a translator. They responded immediately and a Spanish speaking psych and Speech and Language Pathologist were found to test our son.
BUT my husband and I are educated Latinos who will move mountains for our son. What about my people, though? My people who do not speak the language. My people who are just grateful to get any help they can? My people who just sign papers without knowing what they are actually signing? What about them?? Who advocates for them? For their Spanish speaking children?
My son was tested in Spanish. We had his IEP this past Friday. My son who said his first word at close to two years old, my son, who could not advocate for himself and now says, “ESO NO ME GUSTA!”, my son, who will blow us all away, will no longer be needing Speech services because he is speaking at, or in some circumstances, above, age level. And all in Spanish. I am not a failure. As my best friend said, “This is 100%*** all your hard work! And in Spanish!! Chingona!!!”
***While I would like to take all the credit. Obviously my husband deserves some. He’s amazing, supportive, and helped our son with an open mind.
His Speech Language Pathologist Assistant. Oh god, am I going to miss her. She gave us all the tools we needed. She was a shoulder to cry on. A beacon of light. She is beyond amazing. My son talks because of her. There aren’t enough thanks in the world. That’s why I buy her expensive gifts instead to show my appreciation. She deserves the world.
My mom. Our son’s primary caretaker. My mom who taught middle school for 20 years and holds two credentials. One of them being in Spanish. My mom who teaches our son words like “apestoso”. “Mami, vete a banar. Estas apestosa.” My soon to be three year old son’s vocabulary is better than mine thanks to her. He adores her and so do I. I am grateful for her wealth of knowledge. She’s the real chingona. Although she’d kill me for using that word.
Don’t be afraid to teach your kiddo another language. Look at mine. He’s amazing.