Should I be concerned?

Should I be concerned that my 2-year-old, Kymee, doesn’t say many words and is hard to understand?

Not when she’s this cute

But …
Sometimes it’s so hard to know if Kymee’s speech is “normal” 2 almost 3 year old, or if there really is a problem. I listen to her every day – so I probably understand her more than others do. So, I decided to research it. 


from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.
If you’re unable to understand any of your 2-year-old’s words, talk to your child’s doctor about scheduling an evaluation. Done Speech delay can be an early sign of other developmental issues.So true
Although every child grows and develops at his or her own pace, toddler speech development tends to follow a fairly predictable path. For example, the average 2-year-old:
  • Speaks at least 50 words Yes, but not necessarily understandable words
  • Links two words together, such as “my cup” or “no juice”, Yes
  • Speaks clearly enough for parents to understand some of the words Yes – well maybe me more than Nelson, then again Nelson doesn’t always understand what our 15 year old is saying
      The average 3-year-old:
  • Speaks 250 to 500 or more words Not there yet – but somewhere between 50 and 250
  • Speaks in three- and four-word sentences Just starting this
  • Correctly uses pronouns (I, me, you, mine) Uses all of these, but not correctly
  • States first name Sometimes, sometimes when we ask “What is your name?” She answers “Two” and holds up two fingers
  • Speaks clearly enough for strangers to understand much of the time NO In fact, I can’t understand her most of the time if she’s sitting in the car seat and it isn’t in context
So, I think speech therapy and age has brought Kymee more into “normal” range, but I don’t think she is quite there yet. There are still letters she doesn’t say, and strangers who don’t understand her – but she’s not supposed to speak to strangers anyway. 

So my question is  should I be concerned? 

The Only Thing to Fear is …

The only thing to fear is fear itself … or balloons, or rubber duckies, or sponges, or colored noodles, or nail polish, or bubbles …

The first time we saw it, we laughed. It was Kymee’s first birthday, and I was blowing up balloons – she shrieked in horror and ran away. Call me cruel, but I laughed when she ran as fast as she could away from the balloons and stared at them as if they may attack her at any moment.

She had a rubber duckie birthday party, so I was surprised a month later when I got a cute rubber duckie with a boa and princess crown for her and instead of squealing with delight she ran the other direction crying. The duckie sat in the middle of the living room and Kymee  never took her eyes off the duckie as she skirted the edges of the wall to navigate her way around it.

Then there was the time I picked up a packet of the sponge animals that grow in water. “Won’t Kymee love these,” I thought. Andres put them in water and as they grew Kymee’s eyes grew too and became cloudy. She began screaming, and ran into my arms to save her. Andres picked one up and said, “See, it won’t hurt you.” She squeezed my neck tighter and buried her head in my chest. Andres placed the sponges on the border of his bedroom door and Kymee would not even think twice about entering his room. Smart boy.

We never know what will trigger her fear. This week we’ve experience three phobia triggers. That’s a lot for a week.

We had a family Valentines Party. I made a sensory box for the toddlers. I colored spaghetti noodles with red food coloring added a few pink and red toys, spoons and measuring cups. The boys loved it. Kymee touched it and ran away shaking her head. She wouldn’t come into the kitchen until I removed the sensory box.

Kymee brought me nail polish, which in the past she has been fearful of. I was surprised when she indicated she wanted me to put it on her. She sat perfectly still as I painted one set of toenails green and the other five piggies blue. I told her to sit still as they dried. She giggled as I blew on her toes. Mission accomplished. I sat her on her feet on the floor at which moment she looked at her toes and started screaming. I should have been filming for “America’s Funniest Videos” as Kymee proceeded to kick her feet trying to fling the color off her toes. She stomped and tried to brush the color off with her hands all while screaming at the top of her lungs. If you have ever seen someone try to sling their toes away from themselves, you have to admit it is worth the $100,000 grand prize.

Kymee loves bath time, so I made a special Valentines Bath. Pink food coloring, bubble bath, foam hearts and silk rose peddles were added to the tub along with bathtub paints. I put Kymee in the tub. She froze. Fear creeped into her eyes, and she started crying. Why? She’s played with paint in the tub. She’s had colored water. She loves playing with the foam shapes. I picked up some bubbles in my hands, she cried more. The bubbles. She’s scared of the bubbles.

At face value, each incident is funny. It’s funny to be frightened by such trivial things, isn’t it? We’ve all laughed at the absurdity. But who wants their little girl to be frightened of the world? It is a mom’s job to protect their child and make her feel secure. I fail time, and time again. It is impossible to avoid an unknown trigger.

I’m going to get technical on you now – hang tight.

I remember when Kymee was little and having screaming fits (which she still has – less often but more violent). Her geneticist told me it was possible that the part of her brain that allows her to self-regulate, may not have developed properly in vitro. This week I was reading a book on how children’s brains developed (that’s what the nerdy me does for fun) – and it clicked.

The book explained that if the mother is anxiety-ridden or in great stress while pregnant, her body sends out stress hormones and set patterns for her developing fetus’s brain “that ‘wire’ the unborn child for this automatic defense response diminishing the functioning of the high brain … (The brain in the unborn child than is geared towards) protection and defense, rather than being free to move toward intellectual curiosity and exploration”(Oppenheimer). Since Kymee’s mom was bipolar, and was prone to outburst of rage, is it possible that Kymee’s brain is wired for defensiveness – she sees things differently than I do? – No specialist’s evaluation, just a mom in deep thought.

The geneticist says that after Kymee turns three she can send her to behavior specialists who can help us teach Kymee to deal with some of her issues. I hope the fears are a part of that. It’s unthinkable to have her go through life with possible fears creeping around every corner.

Since Princess Kymee can not fight the fear dragon herself, it’s up to me, her mom to be her knight in shining armor and fight the demons for her. So I’ll duel with balloons, banish over-dressed duckies,  exterminate sponges, discard colored noodles, cover piggies with socks, and scoop bath bubbles from the tub into the toilet (does this double as cleaning the toilet?).

So Princess Kymee can play unfearfully ever after.

Progress Report

Kymee has made so much progress in her speech this last semester. A week before she began speech she had her ear tubes replaced. I believe that the combination of hearing clearly, speech therapy, and age appropriate behavior has made all the difference. For those of you who are fascinated by technicalities of evaluations and therapy, like I am, this post is for you. This is a summery of Kymee’s latest evaluation.

1. Lack of verbal reasoning
2. Little to no knowledge of animals or household objects
3. Little use of social behaviors such as greetings or sharing
4. Identifies colors but unable to verbalize names
5. Unable to produce names of immediate family
6. Struggles with bilabial sounds, fricatives and glottal stops
(Googling this helped me understand Kymee could not make sounds which used both lips, or make sounds in which the airflow must be stopped to produce the sound)

1. Adapted to being with therapist away from Mom
2. 3 minute attention span
3. If more than one toy available for play – she struggles to choose and becomes upset
4. Is upset when asked to share (isn’t this normal for a 2 1/2 year old?)
5. Throws toys when finished
6. Throws things at therapist instead of verbalizing her needs
7. Noises outside room distract her
8. Strikes the therapist wen doesn’t want to participate in planned activity (I can vouch for this one personally)

Therapy Goals 
1. Repeat verbal commands 80% of time
Initial: 20%
Final: 100%
2. Verbally request items to play when prompted 80% of time
Initial: 40%
3. Verbally request items to play without prompting 80% of time in 2 sessions
4. Repeat animal names 80% of time
Initial: 20%
5. Use 2 word phrases in structured play by modeling
6. Repeat family names
Initial: 25%
Final: 85%
7. Repeat common household item names
Initial: 20%
8. verbally identify household objects
Final: 75%

1. Says “all done” when finished with toys instead of throwing them
2. Verbalizes names of colors, animals and family member most of the time without prompting
3. Could play for 10 minutes without frustration
4. Could greet and share more age appropriately
5. Kymee no longer hits her therapist (now if we could figure out how to make her stop hitting Elijah)

1. Increse 2 word phrases
2. Increase age-appropriate vocabulary
3. Improve verbal identification of family members
4. Monitor Kymee’s articulation production for further assessment and remediation 
(I’m ready to move on to this part – but it may be a while)

Bubbles for Babbling

“Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles
Bubbles, bubbles, POP!”
Turns out blowing bubbles is good for developing speech.

“Bubbles” is one of the few words Kymee says which a stranger can understand. Of course “Baba” 

and “Bubbles” end up sounding the same, so one must taking into context whether she is hugging her “Baba” Stephan, or wanting to chase pop-able spheres around. Her therapist is also using bubbles to try and get her to say, “Pop” and “More.” (She does say “more” – Amanda just hasn’t heard it yet)
If you listen real closely in this video you can catch the word “bubbles” or more like “bubu.”
But the real therapy isn’t in the words associated with bubbles themselves, but the ability to blow them. 120 toddlers were studied by Lancaster University, it was found that the ability to perform complex mouth movements, like blowing bubbles, sucking through a straw and kissing, were strongly linked with the ability to develop language.
Kymee’s language challenges stem from a lack of control over her mouth muscles, due to her cleft lip and palate. Blowing bubbles exercises for the lips, breathe control, and mouth positions.
When blowing bubbles, the therapist is looking for a round shape of the lips. 
As you can see from this photo, Kymee can not yet  round her lips completely. 

 “Pucker up” and blow is the lip position for the sounds /w/, oo, and /o/.
Blowing bubbles also positions and strengthens the tongue for sounds that are made in the back of the mouth like /k/, /g/, and ng.  Funny, these were the first sounds that Kymee made after her palate repair surgery, but she has stopped making them for some reason.

So, I’ll get Kymee to blow some bubbles and work out those lip muscles. I’m hopeful that a byproduct of this therapy is that she’ll learn to give round, closed mouthed kisses instead of slobbering all over my face. 

Say "Moooo"

Amanda, “What does the cow say?”

 “The cow says moooo”
“Say ‘moooo'”

 “What does the lion say”
Kymee, “Grrrrrrrr”
Amanda, “Grr, good”


I watched on a TV monitor from a cubby-hole in the video observation room as Kymee and her new speech therapist played alone in a therapy room. I realized I was paying $25/hr for a graduate student to sit on the floor and name objects, a task I perform daily for free.

I have no idea why, but watching Kymee interact with the therapist, was spell-binding. Best TV I’ve seen for a while. Don’t ask me why it was entertaining to watch when she shook her head and said “no” when asked to exchange her plastic lion for a red fire truck, but it was. Even Andres couldn’t keep his eyes off the monitor and read his book, and laughed out loud as Kymee loaded her baskets with the four-legged creatures instead of willingly being redirected by Amanda. She enjoyed loading and unloading these small critters into the baskets, and when forced to play with the “red fire truck” and “yellow school bus” (as Amanda labeled them) she insisted on lining the vehicles up perfectly on the table. Slightly OCD, or maybe just a melancholy.

I prided myself on the fact that she never once threw a fit, or screamed in frustration, and only hit Amanda twice. I almost feel sorry for Amanda, after one hour of Kymee time, she believes her to be a “quiet” little girl whose one true love in life is manufactured barnyard animals. But, as far as first impressions go, Kymee made a good one. Hope the graduate student isn’t too disillusioned when the real Kymee shows up.