Smart toddler, nonverbal - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 07-10-2011, 11:20 AM - Thread Starter
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My son is 2 yrs old and was 12 weeks early at birth.  While he has done exceptional for being a preemie, he is presently nonverbal due to an (almost certain) oral-motor disability that keeps robbing him of his speech.  (We will have the official diagnosis within a couple weeks.)  He is very high with receptive language as well as cognitive and completely passed the communicationl part of the Early Intervention assessment even without speech (which is hard to do), so he is definitely compensating for his lack of speech.


I am working with him to learn signs and develop the PECS system for communication, mainly because he wants to communicate more complex things than signs presently give him.  We do awesome for me figuring out his wants, needs, communications, etc.  But I have to tell you, it is tiring my brain to figure out this kid sometimes.


So my question is this ---- how do you keep challenging a kid who can't talk back?  I've been troubled by this.  When my son shrieks "hey" (his word for everything) and points, he's pointing at a front-end loader.  Now, I don't know if "hey" means "check that out", "look, Mommy, I found another one!" or something deeper like "Why does it have that thing underneath the cab?  And what is it called?"  Would you keep describing the front end loader and all the parts and how they work or would you back up and wait for his language to develop.  I don't want to overwhelm him, but my son can practically look at, play with, and sit on anything with wheels, all day long.  He is THAT interested.  What would you do?



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#2 of 6 Old 07-10-2011, 01:20 PM
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I'm pretty sure your ds is "being challenged" plenty by all the new-to-him experiences, development and growth he is getting. My two eldest kids were essentially non-verbal at that age (they each had six words at 27 months, the only landmark I can remember). It was very frustrating for them not to be able to communicate their needs and questions verbally but there's no doubt they were learning like crazy. My dd was actually learning to read at the time, though we didn't realize it until after her expressive language took off. My ds was observing amazing things about mathematical and spatial relationships. They were learning to read social cues, to empathize, to behave in accordance with social norms, to share, and be patient, and listen carefully. They were figuring out how the world works, how things fit together. 


In other words, I think what you're seeing in him is simply frustration with not being able to communicate, not frustration with lack of intellectual challenge. Just because he isn't able to get an answer to his unexpressed question about the front-end loader doesn't mean he isn't being intellectually challenged. There's challenge in trying to figure it out for himself, in listening to you try to guess what he wants and in trying to communicate non-verbally through numerous different strategies. 


Obviously there's a danger in assuming a non-verbal child is cognitively impaired, isn't curious about the world and can't comprehend anything but the simplest ideas. But clearly you "get" him. You're exposing him to lots, reading his non-verbal communication as best you can, and not talking down to him, enriching his world. He's obviously thriving, so I doubt you need to change things to challenge him. The frustration you're both experiencing around the communication issue is understandable, but I don't think you need to worry that he's not learning like crazy. There's less in-your-face evidence of learning in a non-verbal child, but I bet you can read engagement and enjoyment in his eyes: those are great indicators that he's learning up a storm.


If he's overwhelmed by your monologues, his eyes will glaze over. If not, and if you are enjoying talking his ear off about front-end loaders, by all means, carry on!



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#3 of 6 Old 07-10-2011, 07:39 PM - Thread Starter
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Miranda, thanks!  I never thought about things like that.  He's taking in so much and without him being able to express himself, I'm never really sure what he wants.  It's frustrating ... hopefully we'll get some language soon, or at least much better signs!

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#4 of 6 Old 07-11-2011, 06:09 AM
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Would an Ipad help? There are Ipad/Iphone apps that are designed to help nonverbal people communicate. They're used a lot for kids with ASD, but I've found that a lot of stuff designed for ASD helps my kid. (DS1 has mixed expressive receptive language disorder.)


TouchChat might be a little sophisticated for a two year old, but there probably is something at his level, if you look around.

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#5 of 6 Old 07-11-2011, 10:29 AM
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My youngest didn't say anything until about 20 months and he wasn't a premie. I know it's not totally the same but it was frustrating. I just wanted to say I'd not worry about him being challenged. Communication alone was challenging. For my DS, I trusted him to bring me the books he was interested in. I read the signs he pointed too. If he pointed to an item, I would ask him if he wanted to hold it or know about it and he'd nod or shake his head. Non-verbal kids still learn through play. In fact, I know my DS knew all his letters at 12 months because of an alphabet puzzle at the library. He couldn't say anything but I could say any letter and he'd grab it for me. I could say "Panda" and he'd lift the "P" and point to the picture of a panda under it. He really enjoyed activities where he could use that great receptive language like your DS has. We actually did a lot of silent play but I could see he was figuring things out. It helped to have those little word books around, you know those baby board books with pictures and basic vocabulary. DS ended up using them to help communicate at times by pointing to items he wanted.


I know it's frustrating. We had some lovely tantrums due to my just not understanding what he needed (as it turned out, he had all sorts of sensitivities including some oral issues we didn't totally understand until he started occupational therapy.) At 10, the kid speaks 2 languages fluently and a 3rd language conversationally. He's more than compensated and I have no doubt your DS will too! 

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#6 of 6 Old 07-11-2011, 04:01 PM
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My 31 month old has just been diagnosed recently with Apraxia of Speech, which is a speech delay/processing disorder.  He has been in speech therapy since he was 18 months.  Every evaluation, they comment on how well he is able to get his point across without words.  At his last evaluation he tested at 12 months for expressive language and 36+ months for receptive language.  He is very slow to pick up signs, but more often than not he is able to communicate his wants and needs in other ways (his own sign language, sounds he can make used in different tones to mean different things, etc).


I'm not quite sure what you are asking, but I definately think that nonverbal toddlers can be advanced/gifted and we as the parents of those kids just have to provide the information in different ways and maybe more repetively than we would if they could communicate with us.  .I'm 95% sure that DS knows his colors and quite a bit of them and recognizes some letters--but since he can't verbally tell me he does (9 out of 10 times I ask him to point to certain colors/letters he will), I will point them out more often than I would with a child that could tell me verbally "blue" when I ask what color the sky is. 


I also have 2 older kids (4 year old boy and 9 year old girl), who love to learn so DS is definately told very elaborate reasons/explanations.   He does say "done" so when it's just he and I and I'm talking to much, he'll definately tell me "done, mama, done."


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