Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Subversive speech therapy


"I hate it here!" Max says.

We are out on a drive and he is once again trying to convince me that Los Angeles is a far better place to live than New Jersey.

"I like it here, so we don't agree on that," I say.

"It's not good! L.A. is better!" Max responds.

"I get it, you love Los Angeles and you don't want to live in New Jersey."

He vigorously shakes his head up and down.

"You could say that New Jersey sucks!"

He looks at me.

"When you don't like something, you say it sucks," I explain.

Max doesn't have friends from whom he can pick up colloquial language. He gets it from watching TV, me, Dave and Sabrina, who recently taught him "You idiot!" which Max's uses appropriately. When a truck was blocking the street and a lined of cars piled up behind, Max exclaimed "Idiot!" when we finally drove by. The word isn't completely intelligible, but the intonation is. The irony is not lost on me; "idiot" in older times meant someone who had intellectual disability. I like that Max is owning it.

"Say it, Max!" I urge, and he says something that does not sound at all like "sucks."

S's are hard for him, as are consonants like "k" that require trickier tongue positioning and air flow and ones that involve lip closure like "b" and "p." As always, though, I keep pushing. I've seen it happen in speech therapy: When Max really, really focuses, sounds and words can come out clearer. Not always—his lips and tongue and jaw and cerebrum (the part of the brain that controls speech) do not always bend to his will—but sometimes. 

"That did not sound like 'sucks,'" I tell him. "Try again!"

We knew when Max was an infant that speech was going to be a challenge, because of the brain damage caused by the stroke he had. Eventually, the neurologist told us that he believed that Max would talk, and  he would sound like a person who was hard of hearing. I'd say that's pretty accurate. I typically understand what he's saying, but not always. Once, when Max and I were standing in line and he kept saying something I couldn't figure out until some guy on the line blurted, "He's saying 'cookie dough.'" 

One of the things no developmental book will tell you is that your child will have the determination of an Olympic athlete. Max is typically game to keep trying to say the word, pick up the object, spear the last piece of steak on the plate with his fork or do whatever he needs to do to work around or overcome his challenges. This time is no different. He keeps saying "suck," and I keep telling him to do it again. I am all for speech therapy anytime, anywhere, and this is turning out to be a super-fun session.

Finally, he says "ucks!" Maybe he can't get that darn "s" but the "k" is coming through loud and clear.  We know from previous experience that Max is capable of saying Bad Words with the letter "k" (see: The ock you milestone.)

I want Max to experience all parts of life, including having the same words that other young adults do to express their mood and feelings and knowing colloquial expressions. And if that means teaching him words and phrases most parents don't teach their children, I am here for it. 

"OK, let's open the window and yell, 'NEW JERSEY SUCKS!'" I say, in the name of further encouraging him.

Max opens the window and yells "OOOH ERSEY UCKS!" The street is empty and anyway, it's unlikely anyone would guess what he is saying. We both crack up. 

Subversive speech therapy, for the win.


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