At two years old, my son puts his arms around me every day and says, “Daddy I love you.” That’s two. A good friend of mine and father of two brilliant children shared this letter from his eight-year-old daughter who received a time-out for telling her dad to “shut-up”.
“Mom – If Dad doesn’t let me talk, isn’t it the same way of saying SHUT-UP? You know I learn from you guys, if you want me to stop saying it, give JJ and I the freedom of speech.
She actually built in the “Reply here” because clearly she is not done discussing this matter and would like further clarification. I’m thinking my friend is in for some pretty intense teen years, but aren’t we all?
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. Here at Imua Family Services, a very large percentage of children that we work with are struggling with speech, stemming from a number of developmental issues and concerns. I am blessed to have a two-year-old who can speak quite fluently. And every day is a treat to hear what he will piece together next and what he is determined to share with us. But from time to time, his own frustration of not being able to communicate certain thoughts can overwhelm him and cause him to have a small emotional breakdown. Knowing how difficult those times are, I have the highest amount of sympathy and concern for our families and children who are having a hard time with speech. The families can often become overwhelmed with concern and worry, the child can become upset and frustrated, and then there is the potential for the child to become withdrawn.
Communication at home was rough for me when I was a child. My father spoke with a thick Chinese accent; many non-local English speakers had a hard time understanding him. He had grown up in China speaking nothing but Cantonese. When he immigrated to Hawaii at age 11, he learned a combined integration of local English, which we fondly refer to as pidgin, but he spoke it with a thick Chinese accent. He used the limited English words that he knew when he spoke to me, though oftentimes these were mixed with Cantonese. He called me “son,” and never by my name. Seldom did he ever form sentences that were more than three or four words long. “Sit down” and “shut up” were easy, clear, and understandable to both of us. He had two other common phases which applied in many cases: “Why you do that?” and “NO, do that!” Either statement could easily be followed up with, “That so stupid.” Tone and sentiment came in the delivery. But when it came to my own speech and English, my father would not settle for less than perfection. This came from a grave concern that I would not have the better life that he had worked so hard for unless I could speak clearly in the English form, so pidgin, slang, and cursing were not allowed in my home. To help him learn English, I was required to read the newspaper aloud to my father every day. It kept him up on current affairs and helped both of us with our speech. I never minded doing this as it was a bonding time with him and took him away from his work for a few minutes each day.
Now I compare this to the ways in which I engage with my child. My child has access to my and my partner’s full vocabulary which has never included any “baby talk.” He has books, reading toys, ipads, iphones, a laptop computer, and attends a Hawaiian Language Emersion child care! And it all shows – at two and a half years he is a fluent speaker, speaking in full sentences, fully able to communicate thoughts and desires. And yet this is not the same experience for a close friend whose son is on the Autism Spectrum. He is five years old and is not able to communicate with words. In fact, many children have speech difficulties. They may have a hard time understanding or responding, have unclear speech, and may have difficulty interacting socially or combining words. They might struggle to talk and only be able to say a few words. If you know children with these types of difficulties, then don’t hesitate to call us here at Imua. We can certainly help!
Words themselves do not change our love for our children. My father loved me even though his words were limited. My friend and his bright and intelligent outspoken eight-year-old daughter love each other even though they engage in difficult conversations. And my friend and her son who is autistic have a profound love for one another even though their communication does not come in typical form. Since the dawn of man, people have found ways to engage and communicate with one another. In nations and tribes around the world, humankind has exhibited love, acceptance, and compassion regardless of their ability to speak. Today we live in a technical era of global communication that is immediate, and we advance very quickly. As the world moves forward, I hope that we can hold fast to the values of love, acceptance, and compassion at the root of all our words and our communications with others, regardless of their ability to speak. Let us not leave anybody behind – ʻOhana.