It’s another Tuesday morning at Speech with Sydney. We come each and every week. I sit in a little salt-box of a room, watching her through a one-way window. She has worked so hard for the last 3 years, only to go back to her classroom and continue to be the student that is the most difficult to understand. That’s saying a lot, too, considering she’s the oldest at 5 1/2, while the youngest student turned 4 just yesterday.
At two, she was diagnosed with Apraxia of Speech. While she was able to hear words and could understand what they meant, she couldn’t change what she heard into the fine-motor skill of combining consonants and vowels to form words. She has since overcome the disorder entirely, which is an amazing feat. She can now communicate exactly what she is thinking, however the words still tend to come out sounding muffled and distorted. And, unfortunately, if you are not used to her speech, her original meaning can get lost in translation.
And while she is slowly and steadily improving, her identical twin (who was also apraxic) no longer struggles with the clarity of her speech. Everyone, even perfect strangers, can now easily understand Taylor. Taylor will, more than likely, test out of speech next Tuesday. I foresee at least another 6-12 months for Sydney to focus on her clarity. So, by default, Sydney is now the twin that can’t talk.
As her Mom, it is very hard for me not to talk for her. I understand everything she says. My first instinct is to act as her translator. I want to listen to what she is telling someone and repeat it exactly the way she intended for it to sound. I instinctively want to shield her and protect her from the mean, judgmental world out there.
Ya know, like the people (and we’re talking about adults here, most often-times other mothers, no less) who ask her a question and are only able to hear what she can’t say, instead of offering her the common courtesy of truly listening to what she is trying to say.
Then, while ignoring her answer entirely, they turn to me and ask in confusion, “How old did you say she was?”
And what I really want to say is, “She’s old enough to know that you’re being a rude asshole right now.”
But, instead, I re-direct the conversation back to Sydney, as if I don’t notice the condescending tone.
“Tell her how old you are, Sweetie,” I say with an encouraging smile and a casual tostle of her hair.
“I five and a haff!” She says with a huge grin, followed by a giggle of excitement because she’s so proud to be able to tack on the “and-a-half” part.
“You sure are, Big Girl!” I tell her proudly, usually followed by a triumphant kiss on top of the head.
She’s always tickled by my reaction. She gets it. She has a hard time talking, but she’s certainly not dumb. She knows that her Momma won’t waste any time making excuses or justifying her poor speech to someone who doesn’t have any more manners than that.
Struggling to overcome a disability is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Sydney’s preserverance is admirable. She is a strong little girl and has managed to develop an inner-confidence that blows me away at times. She will attempt to talk to anyone. And when it’s obvious that someone is really trying to hear what she has to say and not judging her, she’ll glance at me for help if she’s struggling. I’ll give her a little boost or offer her audience some background, and then she’ll pick right back up with the story-telling.
It is extremely hard for Sydney to speak clearly. But, it’s not hard for us to talk about that fact. Sydney will tell you all about speech. She’ll tell you that she has a lot of fun with her teacher, Miss Ericka, but sometimes it’s really hard. She’ll tell you that she gets really tired of her Mommy interrupting her all the time to make her use her Big Girl Words. She’ll tell you that she doesn’t think it’s fair that Taylor doesn’t have to go to speech very much any more. In the same sentence, she’ll tell you that she likes to go to speech because she gets to go all by herself with Mommy. She’ll tell you that the best part about speech is the candy that her teacher rewards her with at the end of every hard-working session. She’ll tell you that she’ll be glad when Big Girl Words are easy for her. She’ll tell you that in order for you to understand her, she has to speak slowly and carefully.
She’ll tell you all of this and have no problems doing so because it is simply a fact of life. It’s a problem she possesses, and we’re doing everything we can to solve it. And, someday, when she’s standing at the altar and doesn’t need anyone to translate her wedding vows, it won’t be a big deal. But, right now, it still is.
So, if you have questions about her speech, please feel free to ask. I actually enjoy talking about it. I am so proud of Sydney for all of her hard work, patience and progress. She absolutely deserves to be recognized and I am happy to share our experiences.
But…if you’re mocking my child right in front of her, I’m certainly not going to bend over backwards to explain the situation. Not only do I have more dignity than that, but so does my five-and-a-haff year old daughter.