My son didn't talk until he was almost 3 years old.
It kind of runs in the genes. I didn't talk until I was 4.
By the time he was 8, he wouldn't stop talking. His vocabulary was huge, and the ideas coming out of his head were sometimes stunning. But the problem back then was the speed of his words. He spoke slowly and carefully, a by-product of years of speech therapy with Miss Erica encouraging him to "Sound. Out. The Words."
Most adults had the patience to hear him out, but many kids his age did not. They would interrupt or talk over him, which would cause frustration and increasing shyness on his part.
One day in 2006, we were at the park when a friend my son hadn't seen in a long time ran up to him and started talking a mile a minute about how his summer went. My son couldn't get a word in, and when the friend finally asked him a question, he seemed overwhelmed to try and match the speed at which the other boy had been talking.
It was like PBS talking to MTV.
I tried not to call attention to his speech mannerisms. Pointing out his careful enunciation of words and the frequent pauses in his sentences might have made him overly self-conscious to where he might simply stop trying.
In those early years, my son would practice reading out loud from his books during the school day. We also had frequent give-and-take discussions about topics that popped up during his studies, covering everything from medieval history to alternative energy.
Verbal communication is an underrated skill, and one which has fallen by the wayside in our schools. I don't mean just public speaking, but also the simple act of carrying on a coherent conversation with another person.
So, we kept working at it, taking little steps but making great strides in his speech development. Over time, I hoped that the speed of his words would match the speed of his thoughts, so he would have another tool with which to express himself to the world.
Fast-forward to today: My son is 16 years old. He can still appear overly quiet and shy. That's just his way. Again, it probably runs in the genes. However, once he gets warmed up, the words gush forth like a fire hose putting out a wildfire. No longer do those words trip over his tongue, and the awkward stammer that sometimes punctuated his thoughts are a distant memory.
It doesn't seem that long ago when he was a toddler and would scrunch up his face in frustration, trying to make us understand what he wanted.
"I want... I want..." he would struggle, but with such great determination that we knew he would get there eventually.
Now my son has no problem telling us what he wants. And thinks. And knows. He will not hesitate to paint and dance and wrestle with the English language.
The lesson he learned over his lifetime is that anything is possible with hard work and patience. It will not be easy, but it can be done.
My son is now taking college courses at the local community college, working concurrently on both a high school diploma and an Associate's Degree. It's another difficult goal requiring that same hard work and patience.
So far, he's found college work to be manageable, and even a little fun.
And, for one class, ironic: Speech Communication. The one subject he spent so much of his early life overcoming was the one in which he was the most nervous.
For his first presentation, he was sure that the words wouldn't come. That he would struggle with enunciation. That the stammer would return. But you don't put in all that work for all those years just to have it disappear. On the day, he stood before the audience and did his best. But for a few technical slips on oral footnotes, he delivered a wonderful speech.
I'm excited to see where his burgeoning communication skills take him next. I know he's just getting warmed up.
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