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Gauging Receptive Language

Posted Jan 06 2010 12:24pm

One of the hardest things to gauge in a child, I think, is their receptive language skills. It’s this reason that many parents wonder about their children’s language development before 2 years, and a large contributing factor to why so many deaf children are not diagnosed until after their first birthday if not later. If a child does not engage socially, has physical delays, even if they can’t see it’s usually pretty apparent quickly, but with hearing, there’s no telltale sign and no way to gauge whether a baby isn’t hearing or just isn’t reacting.

The flip side is that deaf babies do react to loud noises for other factors: vibration, air gusts, etc. In Danny’s case, he was more visual once he lost his hearing, so he would catch mouths moving in his peripheral vision and fooled everyone into thinking he was tracking voices.

To this day, I pull my hair out some days trying to gauge Danny’s receptive language. Obviously, at this point, you can tell he’s communication delayed – but what is he really getting? Being nearly 2, he’s prone to distraction and toddler selective hearing. Some days he throws me a bone and looks at me, giving a cheshire grin before blatantly ignoring what I said. Other days, he just doesn’t look at all, continuing about his business.

I figure a 50/50 ratio of listening means he understand it. That’s the best I can get.

Things I’ve seen him respond to, at times:

  • His name, absolutely – he’ll stop what he’s doing much of the time.
  • “Come here.” Yep, he does…sometimes.
  • “Want up?”/”Up?” He’ll come over and (sometimes) reach up
  • The sound of the microwave. He absolutely knows that means food’s coming.
  • Monkey. If you ask him to go get his monkey, he will. He loves that thing.
  • “Let’s go upstairs.” “Go downstairs!” Just this morning, I said this to him, and he stopped playing and went to the gate to go up the stairs.
  • “To the car!!” My call most mornings; sometimes he’ll head to the door to the garage.
  • Eat. (Ready to eat…time to eat…want to eat…) He definitely cues in, and sometimes goes to his chair.

I’ll admit, after reading so many other stories out there, I was hoping by his one year hearing birthday (a month away) we’d have a list of word approximations like this instead of a list of receptive language. That being said, though, this is still pretty amazing. He also loves to play with vowels – he’s only babbling a handful of consonants still (/m/, /g/, /y/), but he’s got a good number of vowels. Daddy will play monkey sounds (“ee ee aa aa”) or variants of it (“oo ee oo aa aa,” hahaha) and Danny likes to try to mimic along. He’s got 3.5 lings: ee, aa, and mm very strongly, and he has a sound between ee and oo that he uses for the oo sound. Depending on how cooperative he is in the morning, he’ll sometimes echo them back during a ling check, though he babbles them a lot more than that.

I’ve heard somewhere that kids have something like 50 receptive words before they say their first. At that rate…we may be waiting a while longer. But it’ll come, he’s making progress. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to gauge; he could possibly understand a lot more and we just haven’t found a way to recognize it yet.

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