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When your child speaks a foreign language

April 23, 2014



I remember the days where there were so many words coming from this child’s mouth but he told us relatively nothing.  He could recite movies and books and use some phrases that we used daily (that’s called echolalia by the way).  I talk about Rett’s echolalia and other parents say ‘oh yah my kid does that! says movie quotes that he loves’.  And I think.. your kid does not do echolalia the way Rett does. Rett was a pro.   The thing is, even though Rett couldn’t tell us much about what he wanted or make commentary about the world around him, echolalia was the bridge between being able to say a word and being able to say a word to express true meaning.  And so in some ways, I can’t be completely unhappy with how much he enjoys his movie quoting or the fact that he can memorize large sections of movies including theme songs and sound effects the first time he watches them.  And yet we are still working on pronouns a year later.


It does sometimes feel that I live with a child that has their own language.  Rett has no first language.  He’s learning English as though he grew up in another country. Every preposition has to be directly taught.  Pronouns.. oh pronouns are going to be the death of me.  Learning how to request, how to be social, how to respond to people appropriately.  I remember sitting in French class and not remembering basically anything I had been taught because my brain hates foreign languages. I wonder if its the same for Rett. He sits down in speech and thinks ‘I know we talked about pronouns yesterday but… they’re gone. I don’t know how to change that.’  I can imagine his frustration and annoyance because I felt it myself.  And he has no first language to fall back on.


Half my day is deciphering what he’s saying.  Because him connecting the huge power of language and continuing to try means I have to go half way and attempt to understand. I have to give him the correct way to word things so that people that aren’t as emotionally invested as I am can get what he’s saying.  Because my greatest fear is that it becomes too hard and not rewarding enough to try.  When trying just means frustration and anger and nobody understands me anyway.  Why bother.   So every word out of his mouth is precious.  And every time he tries to communicate, I try to meet him where he is.  I try to think of books and movies and experiences and other things that he’s connecting his world with.   Children learn by connecting the dots of their past reality to new experiences.  Except Rett doesn’t connect them in numerical order.   Often something will remind him of a movie he watched 2 years ago.  My main hobby is knowing Rett.


I went and checked out the Easter clearance at Target on Monday. I didn’t buy that much, go me!  I did score some silly putty that I thought Rett might like since we are using it in OT.   This is just one example at my house.  Rett comes in the room this morning in his pjs. ‘Mama, can I have the shampoo?’  ‘The shampoo?’ ‘Yes the blue shampoo snake.’ My mind is attempting to follow him as he connects the dots of his past reality to his new experiences.  ‘OH you mean your silly putty.’ ‘Yes, my silly putty.’   This is constant.   All day, throughout the day, everyday.  How he got to shampoo we may never know.  Yesterday when I gave it to him he ran in to show his Daddy. ‘Look, Daddy! Its just like at Hannah’s house.’  I hear Tom say ‘Who’s house?’  And because daddy works and isn’t completely plugged in to every waking moment of this child’s life I also get to be the go between, connecting dots for them. ‘He means Olivia, the new OT.’  He was remembering that he used it in OT.


This is our reality. And sometimes its frustrating and hard and it doesn’t seem fair or make sense. But its so worth the effort to meet him half way.  We waited for this day for awhile. Spontaneous speech, connecting the dots, getting to know our boy.   He is worth every moment.

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