Otto the Silent

Well, maybe “silent” isn’t really what I am looking for. Averbal? Nonspeaking? Unintelligble? Man of few words? Monkey boy?

Should I be worried that my nearly 16 month-old son has virtually no words and chooses to communicate through a combination of fist whacks and gibbon-like shrieking? Which, technically, would make him more “Lesser-ape boy” than “Monkey,” although let’s not get bogged down by semantics. The fact is that Otto doesn’t really speak. And The Book says “1 word sentences by 1 year” or some such nonsense. But here we are. 4 months past the deadline. And nothing.

Kid wants to be picked up? Lifts his arms and shrieks. Wants a cookie? Beats at the cupboard and shrieks. Wants to go into the room where his sisters are? Presses his face against the glass door and—and yes, you got it—lets loose a long, high-pitched, ear splitting screech. Jeez Louise. I don’t know how much more of this my ears can take.

So what does the American Academy of Pediatrics have to say about Otto’s communication skills? Well, by age 1, most babies say “ma-ma” and “da-da” and apply the words to the appropriate parent. (Um, let me see. Does he do that? No.) They say at least one word. (Hmmm, uh no.) Point to items and make a sound? (Hey! Finally. Although they don’t really describe an “ear-splitting screech” option. Anyway.)

And am I worried? No. And not just because I’m a hot mess, 3 kids dripping off me, bigger worries on my mind, like where my sanity has gone. And no, it’s not because I haven’t even bothered to think about it. It’s because Otto is doing all the other things right on track. Responds to his own name being called? Yes. Understands what a “cookie” is? Clearly. In fact, in 2 languages. Before you go there, it’s arguable whether bilingual kids really have language delay. Big milestones are supposedly on track, so I can’t go pulling that card as much as I might like. But anyway, hearing and receptive language seem okay. Makes repetitive sounds (other than the gibbon like one, obviously)? You bet. All kinds of “nnn-duh” and tongue clicking. So he’s at least trying and capable of making some repeated sounds. Points to items or makes his wishes known? Hell, yeah! He has no problem letting us know the infinite ways in which we are total morons, oblivious to his desires. We just got back from a trip where every time we went through the restaurant he went completely bananas as soon as he saw the ice cream stand. So, yes, Otto, I’m aware that you like ice cream. And I’m also aware that your preferred flavor is chocolate.

So to sum it up, every kid develops at his or her own pace. So long as the big picture seems pretty on track, a couple months here or there when it comes to milestones is usually perfectly okay. Any doubt, obviously ask your pediatrician. But for now, I will continue to give him very clear instructions when I leave for work. “Today, Otto, I would like you to learn to speak, use a fork, and entertain yourself for 5 minutes. Do you think you can do that?” I’m quite confident I’ll come home one of these days not too far away and find out he’s met at least one of my goals!