When he began the public school services at the age of three, I could still list on a piece of paper the words he could say. Now, a year later, I can't. His language has exploded, and I find myself saying something I never thought I would: "Sweetie, stop talking!" He still has a long way to do with learning new sounds and flowing from sound to sound without those unnatural hesitations. But he has come so far and learned so much.
And I have, too. I have learned a lot about childhood apraxia of speech, of course, and a lot about speech therapy. And I have learned a lot about my son, but the lessons I have learned in the last two years go far beyond my ability to communicate with him. If you have a child with a speech disorder, maybe you can relate as well.
I've learned to listen better. When he talks, my son demands that I stop what I am doing and look him in the eye with all of my attention on what he is saying. When I do, I understand him better - and it is a skill I should be using all the time with others, too!
I've learned that the ability to communicate with words is not everything. I'm a communication snob, I admit. I love words, both spoken and written, and tend to value the ability to use them over other skills. But my son uses other ways to show his love, his intelligence, and his sense of humor, and I have learned to embrace that, both in him and others.
I've learned to focus on his strengths. So what if talking is hard? My son is great at so many other things. All kinds of sports. Making things out of Legos. Making people laugh. I need to focus on helping him grow in and celebrate his strengths as well as improve in his weaknesses.
I've learned (again) that there is strength in numbers. Apraxia is not a well-known disorder. I've gotten much support from other parents walking this same road, especially in a Facebook group established by CASANA, the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America. If you are a parent looking for information or support, I highly recommend them!
I've learned to understand his language. Because some sounds are hard for him, some of the words he uses are a mystery...at first. But if I listen harder, I can understand him. I need to remember to do that with others, too, who may have a different "love language" than I do.
I've learned that just because he doesn't talk much doesn't mean he doesn't understand. We homeschool with Classical Conversations, which involves a lot of oral memorization. I have been concerned about how well he would do when he is old enough to participate in our weekly classes, but then my eight-year-old daughter pursued becoming a "Memory Master" this year, which involved a LOT of listening to and practicing the songs for our memory work...and suddenly in the process, we realized that our son was singing along with her - on the Presidents song, the timeline song, and even a history sentence about taxes, slavery and unemployment (he chimes in when the wolf howls in the background - CC parents will understand!). Not clearly, and sometimes without words, but he had been learning all along, and enjoying himself immensely.
I've learned to be persistent. I remember one time recently when we tried for about fifteen minutes to figure out what he was trying to say until we realized (thanks mostly to his big sister!) that he wanted to go to Chik-Fil-A! I could have given up, but if I want to understand my son's heart, I can't. And I am learning to apply that persistence to the other areas of my life, too.
I've learned that lots of problems are invisible. Whether it is apraxia or autism or pregnancy loss or diabetes or cancer or something else, lots of people are struggling with something that can't be seen by the casual observer. And because I can't see what people are struggling with, I need to offer grace.
I've learned to pray. Not that I didn't pray before, but having a child with special needs has taught me to pray in new ways, rejoicing in each little victory, and asking for strength in different areas.
Childhood apraxia of speech is a challenge we never anticipated when our son was born, but we have seen so many blessings in the midst of it.
What about you?