I have written a number of times about how difficult I find it that I cannot understand the verbalizations Esmé makes. I do struggle with it, daily. I want so badly to hear her voice, to understand her. And while I feel very deeply that I understand Esmé better than I have ever understood another person in the world, I am acutely aware that I fall short when I have to “speak for her.”

And so I struggle with it. I watch other children communicate with ease, and it astounds me. It feels me with wonder and jealousy and confusion. More than other gains–ambulation, oral eating–Esmé’s communication abilities have obsessed me. Part of it is that I am an intensely verbal person. Part of it is that I see the frustration in Esmé as she struggles to communicate her desires. Part of it is the immense curiosity I have about who my daughter is and what she thinks about.

But more than anything, I want Esmé to experience the power that comes from self-expression. I want her to be able to control her world, to demand specific things of people, to assert herself in ways that people other than those of us she has trained in the beautiful art of reading Esmé’s mind can understand.

And I really do think we are at the edge of that becoming the case.

Ez has been babbling a lot more lately. She has been producing strings of sound that we are pretty sure have important meaning. We have understood that she has been pronouncing some place names, “Kitchen” and “Esmé’s Room” for example. We hear things that sound like “I do,” “gonna doit,” and “I wanna do.” She has started saying “OUT!” when she wants to be released from her carseat or her chair in her school room. She has also been repeating sounds back to us.

 I have been excited about these changes…but I have also been afraid to make any assumptions about where she is heading because she has made some advances with verbalizations and then backslid in the past…and I try so hard to be reasonable and realistic about such things.

Esmé’s teacher Dorothy has been working with Esmé on understanding the power of her communication–from turn-taking with a toy using a button that, when pressed, says “I want a turn” to using a general communication card of “Help” when she is frustrated. Recently Esmé started making a panting noise…it sort of made me nervous at first, honestly, thinking it was medical. But lately it evolved a bit, and it became clear that she was trying to say help: “heh, heh, hep.”

Earlier this week Esmé finished up her special education session with Dorothy by saying, “All done” over and over. Then, when Dorothy and Ez met me in the living room after the session, Ezzy continued passed us–crawling toward the kitchen saying “itchen” and then, “I do it.” In the kitchen she started pulling the number magnets off of the refrigerator. She made “mmm” sounds and “nnn” sounds as we talked about her magnets and numbers.

Then she lifted a dropped magnet off the floor, concentrating hard for a moment…it seemed as if she was going to try to put the magnet back on the refrigerator–which is no easy task! The magnet sort of launched from her hand and fell back down on the floor. Ez hung her head, like she was exhausted from the effort. We asked her, “Do you want to put the magnets back on the fridge?” and “Do you need help?”

And Esmé said, “Hep, I doit.” I can only presume she was asking that we help her do it.

Amazing, right? Huge. Earth-shattering, really.

Dorothy and I have been talking about how interesting it is that Esmé’s language has progressed in an unusual way. Typically words like “out” and “help” will come before place names like “kitchen” and certainly before assertions like “I do it.” It seems that (unless we just didn’t understand things she was saying before this…) her language has been developing differently.

When we put our heads together we came up with the theory that perhaps Esmé’s motor challenges have changed her verbal development. An independently mobile child wouldn’t necessarily announce that he was going into the kitchen…he would likely run there (or sneak there) before any adult would catch up with him. Esmé, on the other hand, is not able to move as fast as many children can. She is often, for reasons of her safety, stopped from moving toward or into certain spaces. It is also true that we may have interfered with her movement, thinking we were redirecting her toward something more interesting, but actually stopping a plan she had for heading to her room and doing something because we didn’t know what the plan was.

So, it is possible that her announcement of her intention to go to “Esmé Room” or her insistence that she’s “gonna do it” is her just indicating that she is trying to do something and that we’d best not interfere with a lady on a mission.

Unless, of course, that lady asks that we “Help, I do it.”


  • My oldest is nonverbal, if you know him, you can understand him, but if not it's garbled. He's now able to navigate on an IPAD and Dynavox(talking device). In the past, when I heard friends casually say about their children, "Oh my kid talks all the time, I wish she would just stop.." I got frustrated. What a gift to hear their child's voice! How wonderful that the child can express what she needs and wants! It's taken for granted. Awesome the progress she's making! Like you said she's, " a lady on a mission."

  • I am on a similar journey with my daughter who has a genetic condition and developmental delay. Her communicating has been my obsession more from the point that she could never say what was hurting or bothering her and the numerous trips to the doctors/ hospitals for unknown illnesses had me frustrated that she couldn't tell me what she felt. BUT at 4 (same age as your cutie) she is making strides all of a sudden. To other people they hear babbling with the odd sound that is like a word but more and more spontaneous speech is coming and last week she announced "Best in the whole world" when she came in my bed. I nearly fell out of the bed from jubilation! Check out my latest post as these tips have helped enormously in the changes we have seen. We are not anywhere near the finish line but making steady progress. Glad to have come across your blog xx

  • Tiffany, I totally hear you…it is such a blessing to hear Esmé's voice. I would give anything to know the thoughts going through her sweet, funny, clever mind!

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