Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved the story of Helen Keller. I did a report on her in grade school, and I remember being fascinated at her progression towards speech through sign language. It boggled my mind that until her first word she lived in silence, isolated from understanding the world around her. I'm one of those kinds of people (maybe everybody is like this?) who cannot just read or hear about a situation- I put myself in that situation and imagine what that person must be feeling. It scared me as a child to think what Helen Keller must have felt in that world of silence, and it thrilled me to imagine what it felt like to grasp that first word- water.
A few months ago Lily was struggling to tell me something she wanted. She was pointing up to the counter, and she kept saying uh-uh-uh. After repeatedly asking her to tell me what she wanted (expecting her to sign) she blurted out POP. She wanted the popcorn on the counter. Up until then, I had never heard her say a word for something without a sign. I tried to get her to repeat the word, and she wouldn't. Over the next few months she would occasionally blurt out pop, but it was very random. I started researching apraxia and was convinced she had it, as this is one of the signs of it- using a word and then "forgetting" it.
But lately Lily is making more and more attempts at using spoken words rather than just signs. And when she masters a word, she uses it consistently.
Her therapist and I noticed when she was younger that this is Lily's learning style - she is a cautious learner.
Take for example standing. She used to do this silly thing where she was lying on the floor, kicking her legs out behind her, and balancing almost in a u shape, with her legs and back arched. Then she would push herself upon her hands and feet and just pose there forever in an upside down v. We always joked that she was practicing gymnastics or something...there didn't seem to be any reason for her exercises! Then one day while we were getting ready for church the kids yelled to me from the other room that Lily just stood up by herself- in the middle of the room with nothing to pull herself up on. I thought for sure they were teasing me- she had never even attempted standing alone before. I came in the room, and sure enough, there was Lily, standing proudly and grinning ear to ear. After that she pushed herself to a standing position consistently...and she did it propelling herself upwards in those ridiculous looking "gymnastics" she had been practicing for months.
She stood- when she was ready to stand.
She didn't practice over and over, trying and falling, she waited until she knew she could master it. I have no idea what this looks like in the brain, but I do believe we are all hardwired certain ways. I've seen it with my kids again and again- I have kids who will try something over and over until they succeed, and kids who are more cautious. They observe, they perhaps try things out in their minds or behind the scenes, and when they're confident they can nail something, they do it on the first try. Is it fear of failure that keeps these learners from attempting something they can't master immediately? I have no idea, but what I have noticed again and again with Lily is that she is one of these cautious learners.
I really think that is what I'm seeing with speech. She doesn't want to attempt words until she knows exactly how to say them. She doesn't try words often- and if she attempts the sound and gets it wrong she won't try again until days later. She'll sign the word instead. But when she nails it and she's confident she nailed it, the word becomes part of her consistent vocabulary.
It still thrills me to hear Lily use the word pop...and I wonder if Helen Keller's teacher felt the same thing every time she heard her say water. Because that one little word showed me that a whole new world was opening up to my girl, and I will have the rest of my life to observe this miracle.
And it helps that popcorn is her favorite food on the planet :)