When a child talks, his brain tells his diaphragm to push air up and out. It tells the muscles in his mouth to contract or loosen into a particular form, and it tells his tongue to move to the corresponding position. It tells the muscles in the back of his throat to push air out and the vocal chords to vibrate accordingly. The brain does all of this simultaneously, while also directing thoughts that make the resulting sounds string together to communicate meaning.
Only, sometimes, for some kids, it doesn’t. Sometimes, the little boy trying to talk has a thought, an idea that he wants to express, and the systems that so seamlessly work together for most of us just flat-out fail him. And he has to work at it, day after day after day, just to get the respiration to coordinate with the muscles to coordinate with the thought to produce the right sound. And then do all of that over again to make the sound turn into a word turn into a sentence.
To watch, to help with. I can’t even imagine how exhausting it must be to do. It’s so goddamn hard just to watch K struggle with what is so deeply instinctual to the rest of us. I know I take for granted how easily I can open my mouth and spew out thoughts without pausing to consciously remember how to do it. And his brother N is a born narrator who never thinks twice before an impressively fluent five-minute monologue about volcanoes or fire boots.
But for K, every sound that makes up every word has to be consciously produced. During his speech therapy today, he worked a solid twenty minutes practicing asking for colored bugs I had in a bag, and what he has gained from the “uh” and “mmm” sounds that constituted most of his speech six months ago is amazing. He can put two and three words together now, and at times he doesn’t have to pause between the two to start the diaphragm process all over again to push the next word out.
But after twenty minutes of practicing the production, articulation, and fluency of a few short phrases, he had reached saturation. He put his little hands to his face and rubbed his eyes , like he was just so worn out from it all. And there is so much still ahead, it’s a small wonder that sweet little boy doesn’t just close his eyes and stop trying sooner because the work we have left to do seems so daunting.