Monday, May 4, 2009

I Have Twouble Saying My Awes

I can't seem to decide whether I ought to worry about Zachary's speech.

See, my mom is a speech therapist, and she's always been all about correcting his pronunciation. When he was little, for some reason, all words that started with "sn" became pronounced as though they started with a T. So "snake" was "take," "snow" was "tow," etc. It was endearing and, as long as you understood what the system was, easily understood. He also converted "sm" sounds to P, so if there was a fire, there would be "poke" coming from it. My mom would notice this and make these exaggerated sounds when she talked to him: "You want to play in the s-n-o-w? The s-s-n-n-ow?" And I would roll my eyes and think, "He's 3, for crying out loud." And of course, he outgrew it.

Now he's 5 1/2, and he still has trouble with certain sounds. All the sounds in a certain family, the G, the J, and the SH sounds, seem to get the better of him. They all sound like S or Z sounds. It can make him a little hard to understand but you can usually get what he means. The most noticeable one, which seems to be rooted in an actual misunderstanding, is that most of the "th" sounds come out as Fs. So he "frows" the ball. He actually writes them that way. And since he's in kindergarten, my mom's voice starts whispering in my ear, telling me the time has come to help him talk right. So I had a talk with him and asked if he would like help listening to words so he could write them better, and he said yes. So I told him that "free" is actually "three," and he's been practicing it. For a while, I was all proud of him, listening to his speech improve, thinking my mom and her over-helping can kiss my good-mom butt. Then I started listening: "Free. Three. Three. Thirteen. Firteen. Thirteen." And my heart broke just a little. Is this what I've created? A kid who is worried, at 5 years old, that he doesn't talk the way he should?

When my sister was little (I don't remember exactly how old, but about Zachary's age), she had trouble with certain sounds too. And so, the story goes, she marched into the school speech therapist's office and announced, "I have twouble saying my awes." And, because the story is about how cute and determined she was, she was saying her Rs perfectly in no time. It's been one of those family legends about my sister's determination and ability to overcome things, even as a little kid. But now it makes me wonder: Was that her desire to talk better, or was there a voice whispering in her ear that she ought to do things better? Would she have sorted it out on her own, the same way she learned to walk and use proper grammar on her own schedule?

Tonight during his bath, Zachary must have counted to 500. Or rather, he counted to 100 about five times, since he's not sure what comes after 199, so he tends to start over. And as I listened to him go back and forth between the "frees" and the "threes," I felt so confused. Should I be helping him to reach some developmental milestone that I'm not entirely sure about anyway? Am I doing him a disservice, either by helping or by not helping? Is my desire to meet my mom's expectations, coupled with my desire to prove her wrong, getting in the way?

I asked his teacher at conferences, and she said there are other kids with more pronounced difficulty than his. I'm not sure that comforted me. I guess perspective is a pretty hard thing to come by in this world of terrorist threats and swine flu, and parenting questions are no exception.


Sarah said...

I don't know that my experiences will help, but I was speech therapy too, when I was little, for about three years. Had twouble with my awes, my etheth, and my ewess. :)(Ss and Ls) I started therapy in first grade, then we moved so I skipped 2nd, but then they put me back in it for 3rd and 4th grade. I didn't mind the therapy in 1st grade, probably wouldn't have minded in 2nd, but by 3rd and 4th, I was getting pretty self-concsious about it. The therapy itself was always fun, but I felt like everyone was staring me as I left class for my sessions. I had an older teacher in 2nd grade, and younger teachers in 1st, 3rd, and 4th... I wondered if it was a training vs. grandmotherly approach type thing? I don't know. I liked all 4 teachers, they certainly didn't give me a complex about it.

I remember wishing my mother had worked with me to do it right more so maybe I wouldn't have had to go to therapy, but A) she thought it was cute and no big deal, and B) my older brother and sister would tease me about it, so I was pretty sensitive about it... so I think she purposely didn't work with me to try to emphasize to me that it really *wasn't* a big deal, at least not to her.

It took me quite awhile to learn say Ss and Rs correctly. Ls were pretty straightforward, and just basically needed practice.

What I think is funny, if not necessarily cute, is that "th" seemed to be one of the few sounds I could make, and it's one of the few sounds my daughter struggles with. Beautiful. She does fine with pretty much everything else, and just like did, I began to correct her when she was about 5-6 years old. One thing I couldn't do right was move my tongue the right way (as a child) to make the sounds right, so part of my correcting her "frees" into "threes" has been showing her, in an exaggerated manner, how to stick her tongue out, more or less, to make the "th" sound, and just like your son, she *can* do it, when she thinks about it. She's 8 now, and she's as likely to say "free" as "three" but she'll correct herself and move on. I think at this stage, it's mostly habit. So I'm not worried about it, because I know she can do it if she wants to. I could try to say Rs and Ss when I was little, and was not able to make those noises. I think that's an important difference - ability vs. just a bad habit that he is clearly learning to correct.

All of that having been said - sorry I'm a bit verbose! - we homeschool, so she's not around as many kids as the average school-age child, and there's just less pressure all around. I might have felt differently (better or worse, I don't know) if she had been in a whole class of her peers. No real "advice" per se, just sharing the experience, and saying he sounds like he's doing fine really - especially if his teacher isn't worried yet. I doubt your son is worried that he's not talking right, it sounds more (without hearing him) like he's just experimenting with the sounds, and remembering how to say it right. It also sounds like you were very gentle with him about it, and if he says both "free" and "three" in front of you without getting upset, then he's not worried about you judging him. :)

Kami Lewis Levin said...

My sister thought L M N O was one letter until she was about 6. She said "thingers and fumb" instead of fingers and thumb until she was like 11. To this day, she pronounces the word "breakfast" as "breffast." She's 30 years old, has an M.A. in International Relations and a law degree and is currently running her own non-governmental organization in Thailand. I think your son will be just fine. Speech impediments, fleech confediments.