Friday, June 22, 2007

Speaking of Speaking

I have been meaning to speak a little about MK's speaking for a while now. It's pretty exciting to see new corners turned as, for example, Mom-NOS noted while telling us of Bud's latest linguistic leaps. For Bud it was inference and lateral thinking that came online, for MK, it's all about vocabulary.

MK's linguistic history is the sort of thing that PhD dissertations (or Ripley's Believe It or Not stories) are made of. His mother is Japanese and his father is a Japanese speaking Anglophone. So, when speaking to each other, we speak mostly Japanese. Following the standard advice, when MK was born, I spoke to him in English while his mother spoke to him in Japanese. To make matters a little more interesting, MK was born in Paris, so the TV and everything outside our apartment was, of course, in French. That is why we never connected the fact that MK failed to pick up more than a few words with the way he liked to line up his toys in a row or the way he covered his ears every time the toilet flushed or an appliance whirred (this last thing we innocently called his "Rainman impersonation"). At one point we switched entirely to Japanese for a few months to see if that would make things easier for MK. It didn't. So with MK still limited to single-word jargon at age four, we packed up shop and moved to New York, where --everyone assured us-- the relative linguistic homogeneity would soon snap him out of it.

Needless to say it did not. Various doctors and school personnel told us not to worry, right up to age six, at which point we finally started seeing a speech and language pathologist (SLP). Nobody, not even the SLP, who you would have thought would be on the lookout, asked us whether MK knew how to play make believe (he did not), or whether his idea of a fun afternoon was visiting and closely observing a roster of dozens of No-Parking signs around the neighborhood (it was), or whether he showed any interest in other children (he didn't), or whether he ate foods that were not white (of course not) or was capable to touching things with textures (what do you think).

At that same time, because he was in grade one, he was learning how to read. Soon he could recite entire books and, while he did not appear to know what they meant, it was the key that at least partially unlocked speech for him.

-- Heavens to Betsy what a lot of back story. Sorry about this; I'll try to speed it up. --

By nine, with three years of remarkably ineffective speech therapy, he reached a point at which he could express just about any fairly straightforward idea, given enough time and cooperative interlocutor. But a lot of the purpose of language was still obscure to him. I remember a written assignment on penguins that at age eight or nine went like this:

  • Penguins are animals.
  • Penguins are not animals.
  • Penguins are black.
  • Penguins are orange.
  • Penguins are not black.
  • Penguins are not orange.
  • Penguins eat food.
  • Penguins not eat food.
  • Food eat penguins.
  • Food not eat penguins.

I have a feeling that was not exactly what the teacher was looking for.

Vocabulary was also tough. Words just wouldn't stick. MK could look at a picture and repeat the word twenty times in a row, and have no recollection of the word he had been repeating just five seconds later. He would also loose (or temporarily fail to retrieve) fairly simple vocabulary. At age ten, "road," would sometimes become "that car-driving place – you know, it's back" and "toaster" might be "toaster," but more often it was "that toast-making thing."

Still, I suppose somewhat remarkably, MK was doing OK in school. He understood things. He adapted. He compensated. At age ten he got Bs on all his statewide standardized tests, including reading and essay writing. I guess it helped that his teacher taught to the tests.

This year he made some advances. But up to a few months ago they were linear. Then something changed and they became exponential.

-- But you know what? This post is too long, so I am going to stop here. In the next post I'll carry on and tell you about his new SLP and the weird and wonderful things that are happening. --

(Oh, I just love it! I feel like Fox News – "Radiation cloud makes going outside certain death for half the nation. Tune in to Fox News at 8:00 and find out which half.")


Niksmom said...

ARGH!!! You terrible, terrible tease! Please, please, please share the rest of the story soon!? (I am pleading here!) :-))

Frogs' mom said...

Now I know how my 8 year old feels when I stop the bedtime story mid-chapter! "just 5 more minutes, Pleeeeeeease" - I'll be wating for your next post :0)

A Bishops wife said...

I just found your blog this morning.


Now I will put you on my link list so I can read the rest of this "Cliff hanger".