A few months ago, we began to get a little concerned about ZL's communication skills, or lack thereof. Okay, I got a little concerned. ML was pretty sure there was nothing wrong. However, he admitted to not remembering the "talking timeline" of our other kids, so he was willing to do some looking into the situation.
Thinking back, I distinctly remembered having a conversation with JW (our other in-house introvert child) about what he wanted to exchange his pacifier and "buddy" (his bear/blanket thing) for. And I know that we've never had a kid make it to three with a pacifier (well, until now). The "discussion" part is my heads-up that we can get rid of the security items. I feel like I owe them an explanation, since it was really for our convenience that we attached them to the things in the first place (and, boy, is it convenient sometimes; instant comfort on-the-go is a high-value commodity in our life).
Here's the rub: I don't feel like I could have that kind of conversation with ZL right now. Not and know for sure that I was being understood. So, I began to worry. I started with some on-line research (read: I outlined the situation on Sonlight and asked for opinions).
He does not have any tell-tale signs of autism (one of the first things to look for with speech delay at his age): he's snuggly, he doesn't fixate, doesn't do repetitive motions. He obviously has a high level of receptive language: he knows all his letters and letter sounds (from videos), shapes, colors, etc. And he uses appropriate phrases that he's been taught or has heard. When prompted. He just doesn't initiate conversation that much. But he does repeat phrases, whole sets of lines even, from videos he's watched. After watching them just once or twice (then again, he is genetically related to his Uncle CB, so that alone could explain that).
I went so far as to ask my in-laws to bring a book by Dr. James McDonald recommended by the Sonlight ladies. Probably not the best idea. A) They couldn't find the book. B) Grandparents get a little overly concerned about things like this. We're still working on calming them down.
I also called our wonderful pediatrician and made an early three-year check-up for after my in-laws left. I wanted her opinion of the situation.
Of course, even in those few weeks his verbal skills advanced. And, armed with the questions the Sonlight ladies (some of whom were Speech Language Pathologists by profession/training) asked, we noticed a lot of positives: he plays imaginatively, he makes things talk to each other, he initiates affection, he only lines things up once or twice a week (normal for his age).
And it turns out kids who don't feel totally at ease socially (read: introverts) often use lines from videos/TV shows, because they're predictable and can be slotted into the appropriate social setting based on the original context from the show. Makes perfect since to me now that I think about it.
Fast forward to the doctor's appointment: ML hangs out in the living room with the older kids while ZL and I go into the office with Dr. A (love a doctor with a clinic in her home :-). She does the normal measurements, asks the normal questions, and then we get to the whole talking thing. She asks about affection, fixations, repetitive behaviors, and I laugh as I check them off, knowing what she's fishing for (a reaction she expects from me, because she's gotten used to the well-researched-mother type that I am, and bless her, she puts up with it). Then, she interacts with ZL a little while and watches me do so, as well.
Her diagnosis: an introverted fourth child of a mother who is busy homeschooling the older three but in tune with her fourth child. The introverted part meaning he doesn't have much incentive to talk. The busy homeschooling mother part meaning he doesn't get as much of my attention as the older three did at that age. The in-tune part meaning that I know and anticipate what he needs, and he doesn't often have to ask (see "not much incentive to talk"). Turns out, her third child didn't even talk as much as ZL does at this age. Very similar circumstances. He ended up with speech therapy and is fine now.
Since ZL is talking as much as he is and making progress, Dr. A says let's give it six months. If we're still concerned, we can do an initial visit with a speech therapist. Oh yeah, big part of the appointment: the part where she tells me that there's a great English-speaking speech therapist available in-country. Big sigh of relief. It's the same one they used with her son, and she speaks highly of her.
Prescription: be more purposeful in interacting with him and make him talk more.
So, we've been doing that. Do you know how easy it is to let an introverted fourth child just do his own thing? Too easy. We're overcoming that, though. And he's blossoming. He's initiating conversation more. He really is a delight to be around, and I'm glad we're being more focused about getting to know him and helping him make himself known.
As for the making him talk, I was trying to do just that the other day when I was sitting on the floor playing with him (see? I told you I was being purposeful). He was enjoying being tickled, so I tried getting him to ask for more. I got, "Tickle, please." Good, but we're working on moving on from two-word phrases, so I asked him to say, "Tickle me, please." In hindsight, that's a little hard to insert that particular word in there, and I probably should have picked a different hill to die on, but I persisted. After a minute or so, he said, "No, that's alright," and moved on. Goofball. I think the child who can appropriately use the phrase, "No, that's alright" is going to be fine verbally, even if he can't be bothered to get the "me" into, "Tickle me, please." :-P
And I think he's just Uncle CB's nephew (Uncle CB being the person who for years had to label sentences as "original thought" lest everyone assume it was yet another Simpsons line). The other day, I asked him if he wanted some bread, and he started mumbling something a little indistinctly. I asked him to repeat it, and it made me laugh. He was saying, "A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter." Yes, my kids, including ZL, have been very into classic Sesame Street these days.