Question: Normal Onset of Speech

I don’t normally use my blog to solicit advice, particularly about personal matters. However William, my grandson is not yet two and a half and hasn’t started talking yet. He is not self-involved; he can identify colors and objects and points to them when asked; he knows what is going on around him. He seems to use the same syllable to mean different things.  William is very physical. He started walking at 9 months. His sister, who is 9 years older than he, started talking very early.

I am sensitive about these matters, since my older brother is autistic and very low functioning. I have no experience with raising children, so I don’t know if William fits in the category of children who will eventually talk. Autism seems to manifest at about 30 months, a time that is approaching, in William’s case.

I would appreciate any insight that you can give me on this issue. Thank you all.

Digital Photograph: William and Me



14 thoughts on “Question: Normal Onset of Speech

  1. Hello, friend ~

    It may be good to make sure that William can hear okay, and make sure there are no blockages. That is the first place to start. The pediatrician would be the place to start with that. 🙂

  2. It’s best to get a full evaluation. It could be a problem with hearing, speech development or social interactions (autistic spectrum) amongst other things. With some of these, early treatment can have significant benefit. I had the experience with a friend’s child who presented with speech delay at 30 months, and the autistic features became obvious only the next year. That child is now a high functioning teen.
    Wishing William all the very best, it may be a false alarm.

  3. my son, the youngest of 3 children, with 2 older very vocal sisters didnt speak much at 2 and a half, and still not much at 3, his sisters did all his talking for him, if he wanted/ needed something, they asked for him. He had a problem with ‘glue ear’ and frequent ear infections and had a gromit fitted. He caught up with his speech when he was 5 or 6. I hope you get an evaluation. Best wishes for you bith 🙂

    • Thanks, Liz. There may be something like that going on with Will in terms of him getting what he needs without having to ask. But he is an engaging little tyke, not withdrawn at all, which give us hope.
      Thanks again.

  4. i have a cousin who is about 10 now but she could not speak for a very long time, infact she still has speech problems, about 6 years ago she was diagnosed as slightly autistic not full blown but still behind her mates, now she can communicate after years in her school and therapy, The doctors say she will eventually catch up but we are still in the process, maybe get an evaluation, wishing you all the best!

  5. I am no professional, but if it helps I did not start talking till I was 3 years old and I had similar pattern. I had understood everything, I could even write some words but I just couldn’t speak. I think I turned out okay I was in my top English class in primary and secondary even with the slight setback.

  6. Dear Jack. Years ago, in my cabin in the North Pacific wilderness, I posted a piece of calligraphy to my wall, “‘Give neither advice nor salt until you are asked for it.” Like every piece of knowledge, the intellectual apprehension is different than an experiential integration. I have twice learned to speak and have an auditory processing disorder. Hard of Hearing is not a little bit deaf. At nine years of age, a group of experts decided I was an idiot savant. My written language skills were off the charts, but my communications skills barely registered. I had lots of special education. I am embarrassed to say the idiot still shines through more often than the savant. This is not necessarily bad.

    Before my coma, I was somewhat of a miniature genius in the field of neuro-sensory research. Naturally, your request for advice appealed to my heart on behalf of William, his parents and grandparents. And selfishly, I asked myself if I could communicate to you my thoughts, briefly, regarding my own experiences. At 15 years out from my coma, I have assumed I had ‘awakened’ about as much as I would. This is not true. In the past several months, I have experienced some significant return in certain cognitive capacities. So, it is like a final exam, for me too.

    The acquisition of language (and let’s be clear, oral and written language are processed in different neurological ways) is an extraordinarily profound and complex human process. You are correct, Jack, to be concerned on William’s behalf. Do not wait for the insurance company to act. You can act now, and this window of neurological development is critical for William. I can see frustration in his intelligent eyes. In the Bay Area, Stanford had a very good Speech, Language and Hearing Research program. As well as UCSF Medical School. I am sure there are others.

    My suggestion is that you, with his parents’ permission of course and hopefully their full participation, scout around for a Speech and Hearing program that will interview William on a compassionate basis, or as part of one of their studies. These studies can be relatively non-intrusive and sometimes provide ongoing speech and language therapy and education. However, the best part is the multi-disciplinary approach in an academic medical setting. These are professionals trained for years to work with children just like William, to evaluate, assess and recommend to you on the basis of a multi-disciplinary analysis.

    The acquisition of human speech is 99.9% hearing based. Even when some portion of the physical hearing process is eclipsed, we are clever beasts and capable of reading lips, posture and other cues. For communication purposes. Processing neuro-sensory input is another step in language and speech acquisition. This is neurological primarily in function. And for speech to work, the brain must – in each of us – train the tongue and lips in synchronicity with the diaphragm to make a sound we equate with intelligible speech. A not common, but very possible problem of William’s is a neuro-muscular coordination problem of the tongue and larynx. He can say “meow”, and probably other simple sounds. But not, speech. Right? This is easily correctable with education, and the earlier it is begun, the more correctable it is. Do not delay, Jack.

    An academic medical center brings experts in all fields interested in teaching, and students who keep them on their toes, in close proximity. This is to William’s and his family’s benefit. It may mean, Jack that you have to pound a little pavement as they say, to find the right place for him. You will know when you have found what you’re seeking. And, when you consider the price of ignorance these days, education is very cheap. Oliver Sacks, “Seeing Voices” and Temple Grandin’s “Thinking in Pictures” will lead you on your way.

    I would add that advice, like high altitude mountaineering, always brings the risk of trying to go too far. Those we shelter and protect are a gift to us. They are our path to returning the gifts given us. They are our chance to do whatever it is that is required of us now, better yet than we had ever done it before. The gift of a miracle big or small, is our opportunity to become more than human. It’s a deal at any price. From first reading your blog until today, I have always held that your Brother Michael communicates with you, and you in your own way, have always communicated with him. Now, William brings to you and his parents, the opportunity for a deeper understanding of the many cultures of communication. Quite a gift. — The Healing Garden gardener

    • Dear THGg,
      I am overwhelmed by the generosity you have shown me in this and other communications. I am feeling much better about William based on reports of the past couple of days from his parents. He is saying new words (‘Dadda’, and, when he has to go to the bathroom, ‘peepee’). Perhaps he has sensed some alarm or maybe he has reached critical mass somewhere in the interaction of various parts of his brain, that has allowed a jump forward in communication. Will and his parents live in Los Angeles, where I am sure there are some programs that you describe. I and his other grandfather will be pounding the pavement, as you suggest, to find a place for him. I understand the urgency, but am very encouraged by his recent progress. I think the best prognosticator of a good outcome is his willingness to engage. I am very good at getting and keeping the attention of small children and animals. I have read the books you suggested by Sacks and Grandin and understand that an important level of communication is on a sensory level. Will and I have a great time together even with his rudimentary verbal abilities.
      Again, thank you so much for engaging with me. I value your advice and your friendship.
      All the best,

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