Words and Language are not the Same

Laura J. Murphy, MFA
Apr 4 · 3 min read

Before our daughter was born and we toured daycare centers, I remember them all trying to sell us on how our children would learn a foreign language by 3.

Some taught Spanish but the one we wound up at promised Mandarin. Looking back, I laugh now.

What were we thinking? What was the point in her learning to speak Mandarin? Was she going to be some toddler translation specialist? Get involved in foreign trade deals?

Or was it just to impress the sweet old lady at our local Chinese take out?

We were naive.

We also moved and switched daycare centers long before she was ever exposed to Mandarin. She did know several words of baby sign language by fifteen months though. I found that most helpful.

Before she could talk she signed:

Please

Thank You

All done

Eat

More

Help

Milk

By 18 months, she wanted more than she knew how to say or sign. That was around the time she began banging her head against the walls and floor when she was frustrated. Our Pediatrician at the time said to keep an eye on it but that behavior wasn’t as alarming as we suspected at that age.

Around two years old, she also bit herself, ripped her own hair out, and she kicked and scratched me during her episodes. At first, I blamed the terrible twos and laughed about it. She was just crazy.

As it progressed, it became more evident that there was a bigger issue going on.

There was one time at the McDonald’s drive-thru where she saw me pay and as I drove to the second window I jumped as her shoe hit me in the head and her screams pierced my ears. I looked back and she was kicking and ripped chunks of her own hair out.

I grabbed her Happy Meal at the window and pulled over into the parking lot. Once she calmed down, I showed her the box and she grabbed it. I wiped her face and explained to her that there were two windows. The first window mommy has to give “Old McDonald’s” money and the second window they give us the chicken.

It was like talking to no one as she ignored me and began speaking to her food.

As 3 approached, she had become full-on aggressive when she didn’t get what she wanted, was told no, or there were sounds that triggered her. If someone on our block mowed their lawn while she napped, she would wake up screaming.

If we were outside and a motorcycle or helicopter passed by close enough for her to hear it, she would run inside screaming.

I knew because she grabbed her ears and ran inside, not because she told me.

After the major events that lead to her evaluations and diagnoses came to their boiling point, we found out that her expressive language was delayed.

She was a very chatty child who used big words for her age and so I never suspected she had language issues until her Developmental Pediatrician tested her.

Whenever people comment on how advanced my daughter’s language and vocabulary is for her age, I may smile. But what I’m really thinking about is how far she has come.

This took two full years of specialist visits, private speech, OT, ABA, and IEP goals in a preschool disabled program.

It was a lot of work.

Laura J. Murphy, MFA

Written by

educator, advocate, writer, autism mom, storyteller www.mischiefmomma.com Insta:@mischiefmommanj FB:@MischiefMomma

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