Thursday, June 19, 2008

Talk It Out

I had a pretty in-depth discussion with my twelve year old grandson about the economy and global warming this afternoon. I don't know how unusual this is. Maybe all twelve year old boys think more deeply today than they did in my day when their main area of expertise seemed to be baseball stats and which of the girls wore a bra, or needed to.

As I struggled to explain supply and demand and what the industrializing of China meant to fuel prices, his little brother was also bombarding me with how much he really, really liked the Legos we had bought at Target today, and the Legos I had given him for Christmas, no maybe his birthday, and the special charms of the Star Wars ones. My head was spinning by the time I got home to a too quiet house.

I've watched each of my children and grandchildren learn to talk with great delight. Some of them have had huge one-word vocabularies by age one, and others seemed to struggle to make an intelligible sound until nearly two, then share their wishes in full blown sentences. The common thread has been that each one has had a burning desire to be understood, including Walker.

Most kids with Down Syndrome have at least some degree of delay in speech, and many have to struggle mightily to master adult speech patterns. Walker talked a little later than the girls, but his biggest problem has been eliminating the "baby talk", which mostly results from his problems with certain sounds, especially "r" sounds. He received routine speech therapy throughout his school years, but once he was out in the world, I watched his desire and ability to talk diminish as he began to realize that people lose patience with his "jabber talk".We have had the good fortune to receive home based speech therapy for the past two years after I asked his physician to recommend it. This may have been the greatest gift I, and the great state of Tennessee, have ever given him.

Julia has helped Walker strengthen his muscles used in speaking in much the same way his Special Olympics coaches helped him develop physically, with lots of exercises. She comes armed with fun lessons on her computer, lots of whistles, and some improvised "dumbells" made from a strip of plastic with pennies taped on each end. Walker's dad made him a "pacing board" to help him space his words. Julia brought a funny sqeeze monster to do more of the same.

After some initial embarassment, Walker has come to realize that the rewards of being better understood are worth giving up a couple of hours in the sack on Friday mornings. He is always up and dressed, and has two glasses of water waiting on the table in the small study where they meet. (One of Julia's greatest accomplishments might just be getting him to drink one glass of water a week.)

I have seen Walker's increased willingness to spend a few minutes with his dad and me before and after dinner lately. He volunteers info on the pop stars on Entertainment Tonight, and lets us know what movies are opening and when. When we go shopping together, he often runs into fellow employees from the store, and his interactions are what I suppose is appropriate in teenagese today. I actually think his singing range has improved from monotone to some tone. I've even noticed that his jaw line looks stronger and his smile more natural. He's a handsome guy.

Julia will be here in the morning, she's almost as reliable as Walker, and I hope I remember to tell her what a difference she has made in our lives. I think she knows it, but I'll make sure.


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