Sunday, May 8, 2011

Which Came First: The Speech Delay or the Creativity?

My youngest son has a speech delay, not talking until he was nearly three. Two years later, he chats all the time, but doesn't always speak clearly, especially when he's excited. He's been tested and evaluated, been in speech therapy, but no one knows why he was delayed. It's just one of those things.

An interesting aspect of his delay is that he doesn't always remember the names of newer objects, especially if the names don't correlate with how he views the objects.

For example, he came into the house today, asking me to hold the "long orange styrofoam bending tube so [he could] use it like a pipe." Do you know what he was talking about? An orange pool noodle. How did he want to use it? He wanted to place it over a hole and pour water down it.

What I find fascinating about this is the visual images he creates through his descriptions. Foods he can't name are describe by color, size, and taste ("the cheese that is orange and a big rectangle and is good for grilled cheese sandwiches"). Clothes are describes by color, design, and a personal connection ("the pants that are green on the outside and light brown on the inside and pull up and were my brother's but are mine and Nana made them"). Parks are described by the size of the sandbox, the toys he likes to use there, the location of the parking lot, and where we went after we'd visited the last time ("the one with the really big sand box and the wood chips and I make castles and we went to Peet's last time").

Of course, after a few goes, he does remember the common names (cheddar, sweatpants, and a park locals will know), but I wonder if his in depth descriptions stay connected in his brain, creating a richer view of his world. He is definitely more experimental and daring. He seems to view the potential of an object, instead of being limited by its reality.

Is this truly a side effect of his speech delay, or was his speech delay due to this complex thinking? Who knows. I don't really care. What is important is that we encourage his creative processes, because we need more people who see the greater potential in the world around them.

Despite claims to the contrary, school squelches creativity. It must, in order to deal with the number of students with all their issues placed in the care of a few adults, in order to accommodate all the testing necessary to justify salaries and spending, in order to get through what students "must know" if they are to be productive adults. While a child who looks at his desk and sees a flight console might be charming before the bell rings, once the bell rings, that child had better come back down to Earth and sit quietly at that desk and be prepared to be educated.

When you think about it, speech delays, autism, Asperger's, dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD/ADHD, and all the other learning "differences" that get diagnosed and treated aren't new. These didn't just appear in the last 30 or 40 years. They've probably been around since humanity began. So, are they really problems, or just a function of the diversity of humanity? Have they always been problems, or are they only problematic in a strict, narrow learning environment?

After all, if you look at many of our great artists, thinkers, writers, builders, scientists, and creators in history, you will find people who may have been prime candidates for these diagnoses. Imagine if they had sat in room from the age of two or three, four to eight hours a day, five days a week, until they turned eighteen, at which point they were then informed that they must now complete another four, six, or even eight years before their ideas, thoughts, and visions would be taken seriously.

Now, some folks may think I am anti-school. I am not. I am anti-traditional-education. People, not just children, do not learn best by being told, "You are x years old, therefore, you must learn y. You are not ready to learn z, because people your age do not get taught z. And, no, q has nothing to do with c, because the textbook says it doesn't."

We need to recognize that differences aren't bad. They are simply differences. We don't all learn the same way, and that's O.K. We don't all view the world the same way, and that, too, is O.K. What a dull and static world we'd exist in if we did.

If you would like to read more about people with learning differences, please check out these books:
The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's

Thinking In Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism

The Survival Guide for Kids with LD*: *(Learning Differences)

Homeschooling the Child with ADD (or Other Special Needs): Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the Child with Learning Differences

If They Can Do It, We Can Too!: Kids Write About Famous People Who Overcame Learning Differences Similar to Theirs

The Mislabeled Child: How Understanding Your Child's Unique Learning Style Can Open the Door to Success

Mellow Out, They Say. If I Only Could: Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright

In the Mind's Eye: Visual Thinkers, Gifted People With Dyslexia and Other Learning Difficulties, Computer Images and the Ironies of Creativity

Article by Sarah J. Wilson


  1. My daughter who has dyslexia is very similar in her descriptions and her frequent "losing" the word phenomenon.
    She also told me one day when she was struggling with telling time that she didn't "believe that time exists".

  2. Teri, your comment made me laugh! Perhaps you have a budding Einstein on your hands, with declarations like that.

  3. My son is exactly as you describe your youngest! He had/has a speech delay and is constantly describing things. He loves to build, collect, experiment, and be busy. Thank you for the article!!

  4. Fascinating, Heather! They're amazing beings, aren't they? Thank you for the comment.

  5. WOW!!

    What a lucky kid to have a mum with so much understanding and insight.

    You have probably helped a number of parents.