What Did You Say?

This week, I brought D in to be evaluated for his speech, or, shall I say, lack of intelligible speech.

While I have no worries about his intelligence or his physical ability (he can ride his sister’s Scootch like nobody’s business), I just wanted to know if D’s speech was in the realm of ‘normal’ for his age (2 years, 10 months, in case you are wondering). Most of his issues involve pronunciation and sticking to one-two word answers, instead of moving toward more complex sentences.

The speech therapist called us into her office. Immediately, I was struck by something I hadn’t expected. It was an accent. A very thick accent.

For the next hour, D was asked questions from a therapist with an obvious Indian accent. She was very smart, used perfect grammar and had an extensive vocabulary. There were also times she would ask D to do something, and he would not respond until I repeated it. There were times I wasn’t even sure what she was saying.

Right now, I’m afraid that some of you will think that I am being closed-minded or xenophobic, so let me remind you that my mother is Austrian and has a thick German accent. In no way do I limit her time with my kids for fear that she will ‘harm’ their grasp of the English language. And, yet, if I were to pick someone to help them learn proper pronunciation, she would not be my first choice, for reasons I’ve discussed before (oh, the scars from the porcupinis still sting).

What do you think? Do we have any professionals in the hizouse to let me know if I should have cause for concern? Would D’s speech be improved in therapy, regardless of the therapist’s own speech?


  1. No answers here, but I can commiserate. Maya had an evualation 2 weeks ago with a S/T with a HEAVY American accent. Very experienced, highly competent, but my god what an accent. As an Anglo myself, it was painful to me. Things were fine for the English portion of the exam, but on the Hebrew stuff Maya really had trouble. She just couldn’t understand the woman. (We did end up with a viable eval though, despite the accent.)

  2. Angela Mott says

    I think you have a valid concern, and one that many clients of this therapist have probably had. I don’t think it would be out of the question to actually ask her opinion on it. – Although I might have my question well worded in advance 😉

    But it might be a non-issue depending on whether this was just an evaluation or if she would be the actual therapist who would be assigned his case (should he need it).

    Also, it’s really surprising the kinds of things speech therapists do. A lot of it is stuff the parents will do at home. Some are simply muscle-building exercises (like blowing bubbles). It will all depend on what the needs of the individual child are.

    The good news I think, is that should D need speech therapy, it will really be what you do at home with him, based on the advice of the therapist, that will make the difference. Well, in my opinion anyway. 😉

    I did want to commend you on taking him in for evaluation. As a former ESE teacher, I think it’s wonderful when parents are able to seek early intervention in the case of a possible area of concern. The earlier, the better. Good for you!

  3. I would have an issue with that for sure, but as Angela said, only if she ended up being his therapist. You’re definitely not being closed-minded – how is a little guy supposed to learn and repeat words when they’re not being pronounced as they should (regardless of grammar, etc)?

  4. I think your concerns are very valid. I’m not a person that has issues with anyone – race, ethnicity, language, accent, etc, however, I truly believe there are some situations where it is necessary that you understand what is being said to you.

    As an adult, I make it a point of making sure my physicians, midwives, and dentists (for example) don’t have accents that are so thick that I can’t understand what they are saying to me. Because what they are saying might very well be extremely important. I really don’t care how educated someone is – I have to be able to understand or at least quickly figure out what they are trying to tell me. I realize this might seem harsh but I have been in situations before where it had been very frustrating for both myself and I’m sure the person speaking because there was a language/accent barrier. I personally don’t want to have to ask someone to repeat themselves several times during the course of an examination or diagnosis for the sole reason that I couldn’t figure out what the heck they just said.

    I would think it would be equally or even more important for children. Especially children that may have a language development disorder. If a child may be having trouble speaking, I would think that it would be especially important that the first thing on the list would for the child to have the ability to understand what the therapist was saying. If you can’t figure out what the doc is saying, how can you expect your child to?

    Just my two cents.

  5. Fairly Odd Mother says

    Thank you guys for such well thought-out comments! Just to add one thing: yes, she would be his therapist. I actually think that she will prepare a very good evaulation based on what she observed in her office. Going forward, though, I question whether or not she is the best choice for a 2 year old—if he were several years older, maybe an accent wouldn’t make a difference; but so young? That is what trips me up.

  6. granted, this is a totally armchair suggestion coming from someone who graps the concept of science about as well as he graps the concept of why anyone would vote for GW Bush once, much less twice.

    but i’m wondering if pronunciation issues, coupled with short responses, equal some sort of issue with hearing.

    Then, when you add the fact he couldn’t understand at all someone with an accent makes me wonder if it didn’t do so because they weren’t even familiar sounds that he had “learned” over repetition.

    have you had the kiddo’s hearing testing recently?

  7. Fairly Odd Mother says

    Hi Tree!

    A very valid question and something I wondered when he was about a year old and wasn’t saying anything (not even babbling). But, after whispering requests many times, and having my pediatrician talk to him, I think his hearing is ok. I think he may get tested at 3 (in a few months), so we’ll know for sure then.

    My cat, on the other hand, is deaf as a doorknob and soooo happy for it! : )

  8. FOM, when E went in for her eval @ 3 yr old they were concerned because she spent so much time with my MIL (broken GreekLish) And asked that she speak only in Greek to her and leave the english up to us. But to this day, E still says words incorrectly, which was a concern more so than the accent that came with the incorrect word, eg. Jumpedded, singedded…
    I wouldn’t think that the therapist’s accent would have too much affect on her ability to stimulate D and help him form words on his own, but understanding her directions and ideas with an accent MAY be difficult. But then again, Gramma has quite an accent…
    We did lots of speech on our own as the copays were going to be $50+ per week.
    Also, my neighbor’s son is doing speech therapy and the majority of what they do is blow bubbles, chew gum, and sing songs. He’s come a long long way in just 1 year. He’s now 4 and I understand 60-75% of what he says.

    I would ask the Speech Therapist directly. Surely you can’t be the only one with that concern.

  9. In the Trenches of Mommyhood says

    I’m with you. My pediatrician is Chinese. He told me to not worry about Baby’s lack of speech at his 2yr appt. I went ahead and called EI anyway and am waiting for a return call. I called b/c I can barely understand my pediatrician, so I figured a 2nd opinion would just ease my mind.

  10. I wrote about this topic recently. You’re right in wondering if this therapist, qualified though she may be, is a good fit. As I’ve never met your little guy, I can’t make a diagnosis, but I’ll say that for kids with auditory discrimination or processing issues (again, not saying your kiddo does or doesn’t), a heavy accent could get in the way. Here’s the post in case you’re interested. I’m one of the New England Mamas as well 😉

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