Eamon and I have this game. It’s a strange kind of game, but one that suits us perfectly. We take the entire stuffed animal menagerie out of his crib (which currently consists of Lion, Elephant, Giraffe, Dog, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Blanket) and we put them on the floor. I get a pillow and he gets a pillow and we lay them side by side. He takes off my glasses and then I lie down on the floor while he artfully arranges his stuffed animals around me. He then selects two or three stuffed animals for himself (and Lion is always one of them), and then we lie down and pretend to nap.
We pretend for about a minute, then he gets bored, and we have to sit up. We have to choose a new spot in the room and move the menagerie, the blanket, and the pillows over there. I put my glasses back on so that he can take them back off, and the entire process repeats. He finds this game hilarious, and I like it because it allows me to lie down while playing.
So this morning when we were in his room, Eamon really wanted to play this game. Communicating this was not an issue—he just bumped his fists together (it’s supposed to be “more,” but he interprets the sign as “I want”) then slid his hand across his chest (“please”) then growled (“Lion”). I asked, “Do you want me to get Lion out of your crib?” He ran to the crib and excitedly wagged his fists in the air (“Yes, yes, yes!”).
So that’s why I’m not really worried about his language, even though up to this point, the only words he can say without fail are “Mimi” (for Mommy, which I think I actually prefer; we will certainly never have that problem at a party where he called for his mother and twenty moms turn around), “Da!” for Dad, “Ma” for Grandma, and a weird sort of puckering noise that means “Grandpa” (I think he’s trying to do the “p” sound, but instead it comes out like a really exaggerated kissing sound). Occasionally he says other words, but even his “No” comes out most of the time like a weird D-J-M hybrid.
Well, I say that I’m not worried. I am worried, but not about his ability to understand and use language. I know that other kids Eamon’s age talk, talk, talk, and Eamon says very few words. But he understands almost everything that you tell him (even when he’s pretending that he doesn’t because he doesn’t feel like doing it), and he signs about 30 different words.
What I am worried about is his physical ability to talk. Eamon was born with a frenulum that was very far forward—the frenulum being the little piece that holds the tongue to the bottom of your mouth. The doctor who examined him two days after he was born noticed it and told us it could possibly be a problem later…but then we met with our regular pediatrician and he said that it didn’t look that bad and we should just wait and see. So we decided we would go along with his opinion.
Until recently. As soon as Eamon was old enough to be interactive, we noticed something peculiar. We would stick our tongues out at him, and he would stick his tongue back out at us—and it didn’t go past his lips. It made this weird little heart shape where his frenulum was holding his tongue down. And we noticed that he couldn’t make a ton of different syllables—especially not the ones that involve moving your tongue a lot. Vowels, he has down, and he’s pretty good with the sounds that you just use your lips for (“mmmm”, “buh”, etc.)
So we went back to the pediatrician. He looked at Eamon’s tongue, poked around in his mouth, and said that it should be fine and we should continue to wait and see until Eamon was about two. At least, that was his professional opinion, but he would give us a surgical consultation if we really wanted one.
Well, I’m not usually one to push for things. My mother was a pediatric nurse practitioner, so I’m pretty good about believing doctors most of the time…but a kid should be able to stick his tongue out past his lips, right? And this “wait and see” attitude…I asked what would happen if it turned out that his tongue really was a problem, and the doctor said that we might be able to try surgery at a later date…or speech therapy.
Whoa…speech therapy? I’m an elementary school teacher, so I know how much kids love to get pulled out of class for speech therapy. They love it this much: not at all. In fact, most of them hate it, and one of the happiest days of their lives is the day they “graduate” from speech therapy.
I asked for the surgical consult. Just to see what the surgeon would say.
So a few weeks later, we went. The surgeon was very nice, and even though we couldn’t get Eamon to stick out his tongue, the surgeon poked around his Eamon’s mouth with a tongue depressor and said that yes, his frenulum was way too far forward, and yes, it was going to cause problems with speech. If we decided to wait until Eamon was two or three, just to see, Eamon would learn to compensate, but there would be some sounds that he just wouldn’t be able to make. He could probably learn to be more or less effective after having speech therapy for awhile. Then again, he might not learn to make those sounds with therapy, and then he might have to have the surgery anyway, and then we would really have to have lots of speech therapy because he would have to learn to talk all over again.
The surgery itself is an out-patient procedure. It takes 20 minutes, though Eamon would have to be put under general anesthesia. It would make it hard for him to eat really hot things for a couple of days, but he would be able to eat and drink within an hour after the surgery.
So…20 minutes…or an indeterminate amount of time in speech therapy? That might end up with him having to have the surgery anyway? When he’s older and will definitely remember it? And will end up with more speech therapy afterwards, too?
Well, this is definitely one of those times when you just have to make the best decision that you can with the information that you have at the time. It’s possible, of course, that if we played the “wait and see” game, Eamon would learn to compensate and mostly speak okay with just a few odd sounds here and there, and maybe he’s so personable that the other kids wouldn’t make fun of him for it, or maybe it could be fixed with just a small amount of speech therapy.
That seems like a lot of maybes.
As the surgeon said, “I can’t guarantee that he won’t have speech therapy in the future, but I can guarantee that it won’t be because of his tongue.”
So we finally came to the decision that a 20 minute procedure that would definitely rule out his tongue being his problem with language—yes, that was worth it. We have a surgical appointment on Monday, July 12. Until then, we’re just going to watch a lot of sign language videos.