Down syndrome

He Speaks My Language

Gabe got hurt. More specifically he got a splinter. It was a fairly good size splinter too! It was in the outside crease of his hand and it was red and irritated looking. I wouldn’t have known that it was there, because it was cleverly hidden in the lines of his chubby little hand, but he told me about it. He told me about it. My sweet little boy came up to me, held up his little fist to show me and said, “Ow, tiss”.  
I stared at him. My face was blank and my mouth was open. I apparently sat like that for a moment too long because he then repeated the request, shoving the little fist even closer to my face, “OW, tiss” he said again. The insistence in his tone and repeat of his request snapped me out of my amazed stupor. I took him over to the couch, flipped on the light and removed the splinter using my master splinter removing tools (tweezers). I gave it another kiss, he murmured ‘kyoo’, his version of thank you, and ran off to play with his ‘scoobus’.  

I stared after him for a long time; I didn’t realize that I was crying until I felt the tear drop onto my arm. I know what you’re thinking, “no big deal, he had a booboo, mommy kissed it, all better, so what?” but it IS a big deal. It’s a really freaking enormous jumbo large deal. It’s not just a request from an injured toddler. This is an entire new world of realization and understanding we’re talking about. Gabe recognized that he had an injury, he knew that mommy could fix it, how mommy could fix it and then he told me about it. He didn’t just speak, he used language!

Speech and language are two different things. Speech is the physical production of sound. It is the articulation, voice and fluency of words. Gabe can speak, he repeats words that are said to him in the best way he can. He uses approximations of words, for example, dog is ‘dah’, thank you is ‘kyoo’, see you is ‘syou’. He also uses signs to speak along with his word approximations; he will say ‘mil’ and sign milk, he will sign grandma and say ‘mama’. He also speaks “Gabeinese”; a combination of babble and word approximations that he puts together and uses to chat with anyone who is breathing within a ten mile radius.  

But language is a method of human communication. Language is a rule based set of processes. Language represents much more than just words, it represents thoughts and ideas. Language is social, it’s communicative, it’s a skill and it is difficult. It’s receptive, understanding others and it’s expressive, sharing thoughts or ideas.


Let’s think about it like this; you see a cat. You recognize that the animal you are seeing is a cat. You think of the word cat in your mind and you want to say the word cat. So your brain puts the word cat in a car (motor impulse) and sends it down the highway (neurons) to your mouth (oral motor system). Your lungs have to fill up to produce the air to flow through the vocal cords to produce the sound that will turn into cat. The back of your tongue moves to the roof of your mouth in anticipation of the ‘c’ sound, your lips widen and your tongue drops down away from the roof of your mouth for the ‘aaa’ sound and then the tip of your tongue presses against the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth, to produce the “tuh” sound.

Imagine a bicycle instead of a car, a clogged up highway, a mouth with muscles that aren’t as strong, feeling that isn’t as sensitive and TWO words to make! It doesn’t sound like such an easy process now does it? Speech is really freaking hard! Language is even harder! That’s why this is such a big deal. Gabe recognized that his hand hurt and he was able to name that feeling. He was able to problem solve, what will make this feel better? Mommy! He was able to put a name to his feeling and establish a request in two seemingly simple words, “ow, tiss”. He used language to express his pain and his desire for me to help him. And it was beautiful. It was heartwarming, it made me want to jump up and down and it made me cry.  

I have cried a lot in the four years since we received Gabe’s diagnosis, it should be noted that I am kind of an emotional person anyway. In the beginning I had mostly sad and angry tears; those disappeared the moment I held my sweet boy for the first time. I do still have rare moments, where I stare too far down into the future and I begin to shed some worry filled tears, but those are few and far between. Mostly the tears that fall now are ones of joy, happiness and laughter, or when I step on one of the kids’ toys in my bare feet. Now I guess when I do step on a toy, instead of crying, I can just look at Gabe, hold out my foot and say “ow, tiss”.


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