Ignore Him

Last week while I was at a party here in Louisville, a woman gave me probably the saddest commentary I’ve ever heard on teaching children to talk. As we were watching her adorable 24-month-old son repeatedly chase a ball an adult had thrown, take it back to her, grin from ear-to-ear, and then grunt UUHHHHH to ask her to launch the ball again, his mother began to tell me the conclusion that she and her husband have reached for how to deal with their late talking son. Her big epiphany: We’ve decided to ignore him.

The speech-language-pathologist-me, the one who’s spent thirty hours a week for the past ten years rolling around the floor with language-delayed two-year-olds let out an enraged, yet silent, scream.  WHAT My internal dialogue continued, With all the current research we have available on the importance of building communication skills, on being responsive to our children’s needs, on how language skills are the best correlation we have to predict future academic success, and with the countless books, magazine articles, and television interviews devoted to the topic of how to be a good parent, how, how in this information-driven, Internet-addicted world, could you come up with THAT?

But the polite-lady-on-the-couch-me looked back at her and coolly uttered, Oh?

She continued to tell me that this little guy will talk when he wants to, that their other children also talked late, and that until the time comes that hers ready to talk, they are just going to, (dare I say it again), ignore him.

Mind you this woman knows to what I’ve devoted my life’s work. She knows the struggle it was to scrape together all the money we had to put me through graduate school more than 15 years ago with a two-year old and a newborn. She knows the blood-sweat-and-tears we shed to launch a private practice after I was laid off ten years ago from a corporate rehab director job. This was the equivalent of a professional slap in the face.

Actually that would have been easier to swallow, because then the wanna-be-social-worker-me, the one who champions lost causes like disabled children who can’t talk much less vote, rose to the occasion and reminded myself, this isn’t about me! This is about a sweet, little boy who obviously wants to talk and can’t. This is about his parents who unload money by the fist-full for a housekeeper and a nanny, scour the mall for the latest fads in children’s clothes, spend hours coaching their older son on the soccer field, and pay for pricey gymnastics classes for their older daughter. (Neither of which, I might add, are headed for a career in professional sports.) This same All-American, mini-van-driving, church-going couple can’t come up with a better strategy for teaching their bright, communicatively-challenged little boy to do what he’ll need to do for the next 75 or so years TALK!

This is not the first time I’ve heard seemingly educated parents say really stupid things about their kids. Sadly, it won’t be the last.

But I am committed to doing my part to help those parents who do want to learn better ways to teach their babies to talk. That’s why I’m writing this site. As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I get the privilege of working with babies and families everyday. I hear their stories of pediatricians who dismissed their initial concerns calling them overanxious. I’ve listened to tales of incompetent therapists who spend an hour-long home visit walking around the room, following a toddler who couldn’t care less about them being there, and then leaving without eliciting a sound from the baby or even giving a word of practical advice for mom and dad. I’ve heard parents talk about what they’ve read on the Internet that’s scared them to death. I’ve looked at their libraries of baby books and stepped over the stacks of parenting magazines they’ve read without coming away with what to do and more importantly, how to do it.

This is what this web-site is for. I want to give you not only the latest information on what research tells us works to help infants and toddlers learn to talk, but also what I know works from the countless hours I’ve spent doing it. I want to dispel myths and share the truth, even if it steps on the toes of other well-meaning but clueless professionals, or hurts of the feelings of well-meaning but misinformed parents. I hope to bring the same kinds of information to this site as I do when I sit down with families in their homes. I won’t have the pleasure of meeting your child, and I can’t possibly provide the same in-depth analysis and answers to your questions as I could if I were coming in person to see you. However, I hope that you’ll get the information you need as you look into your quiet baby’s face and answer what I believe all little ones plea when they look up at you helplessly as if to say, Teach Me To Talk. 

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