Sammie is a one of those really nice kids. He’s not fussy, seldom cries, and has only had a handful of full blown toddler-style melt downs in his life. For the most part, he makes it damn near impossible to complain about him- and, in fairness, I seldom do.
Now, as is expected, the frequency of the toddler style meltdowns has increased proportionately as he has approached, reached and surpassed the milestone ‘second’ birthday. He is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, fully in the throes of his version of the ‘terrible twos’. Having worked with dozens (if not hundreds) of children in this age range, I’ve seen this coming for quiet a while. And- again- he has it much milder than many of the other kids I’ve known. But, it’s still a significant personality shift from the mellow, easy to please, quiet and general happy-go-lucky baby I have come to know and love. I’m now needing to learn, and very quickly adapt, to his growing sense of independence and need for self-control, two qualities that oftentimes conflict with my expectations and desires for him and for me.
Now, let me be very clear here: I fully admit that I am not very good at adapting. And, for the most part, when I look back in hindsight at Sammie’s tantrums, there are usually signs, symptoms, and predictions that I could have made that would have eased the situation considerably. But, slow as I may be, I am nonetheless learning. Day by day, I’m starting to map out the times of day where he is most susceptible to meltdowns. I’m identifying the types of toys that he finds most frustrating, and choosing more appropriate snacks during the hours where he exerts the most energy. It’s an ongoing process, and one that changes on an almost constant basis. But I am definitely trying.
One of the things that makes this infinitely more challenging is that Sammie is speechless. I don’t mean that he is language delayed, or only uses a few words here and there…I mean, he is 100% speechless. No words. At all. Not “mama”, not “papa”, not “juice”, not even “Thomas”…
He has used all of these words, and probably a dozen or so more, several times in his life. But usually he uses them only once or twice, as if to establish to himself, and to the world that he knows them and can therefore move on, never having to utter them again.
I am extraordinarily grateful that he doesn’t appear to have any other learning or development delays. Aside from his self-imposed silence, Sammie is a perfectly normal two-year old. In fact, his gross and fine motor skills are practically off the charts advanced for his age group. And, while he doesn’t engage in speech, Sammie utilizes a very advanced form of body language and an array of hand signs that makes him understandable to all his caregivers and loved ones. He is surprisingly excellent at making himself understood, and reminds me every day that "speech" is only one small component of "communication". His body, his face, his eyes, even the specific tones of his hums and babbles, tell stories more effectively than many adult speakers I know.
When the tantrums start to arise, Sammie starts to lose control over his body. That’s when the trouble starts.
This poor kid, who relies entirely on his non-verbal skills to communicate his needs and wants to the world, is rendered completely helpless by the sheer weight of the emotions and adrenaline coursing through his veins. His frustration reaches epic proportions, as he finds himself completely incapable of communicating to the world the source of his anger.
Sometimes, I can easily figure out the cause. Whether it be a train that won’t stick together, or a desperate need for a glass of apple juice, if I happen to be paying close attention at the time I can usually identify the source. But other times, these moments of sheer panic, anxiety, and rage seem to stem out of nowhere. By the time I figure out the root of the problem, he is usually so beside himself that absolutely nothing will soothe him.
And so, I hold him in my arms, trying hard to protect myself from his flailing limbs and unclipped finger nails…and together we ride out the storm.
Sometimes it’s a few minutes. Other times, it’s been close to an hour.
The horror always passes, and- almost as if by magic- he resumes the wonderful and happy persona that I adore so much.
And when he does, I have to step away- this time to calm my own raging nerves and emotions- and I all too often find myself crying my own tears of frustration.
There is nothing- nothing- more challenging that being unable to communicate with my child.
We start Sammie’s “official” Speech Language Therapy on September 9th. It can’t come quickly enough. In the meantime, I’m going to continue working on it on a daily basis, doing my best to guide him towards speech on his own.
But, until then, I’ll probably always spend an hour or two of post-tantrum time wondering what I’ve done wrong, and why I can’t help him. I’ll ask myself if I’ve somehow managed to fail him already, and I’ll burrow myself in fear that he’ll never learn to speak on his own.
And, just like Sammie’s tantrums, these emotions will render me powerless and speechless, completely shut out for the rest of the world.
Then- just like Sammie’s tantrums- this emotional outburst will pass, sometimes quickly and sometimes much too slowly…But pass it will, because ultimately, the day must go on.
Whether we want it to or not.
This blog is part of the 2012 Summer Blog Challenge (31 posts in 31 days). To follow along with my fellow writers, visit their blogs: