When Kiwi was born, she started talking—not crying—from the moment the midwife placed her on my chest. I thought her beginning moments would be a sign of another loquacious child, like her older sister Peeper, who says things like “lactobacillus acidophilus” without batting an eye.
Yet as another example proving that siblings are anything but identical, Kiwi grew into a toddler who barely spoke. She relied on grunting and pointing more than anything else. But now, as she turns 19 months old, she is communicating more—through expressive grunts, pointing, sign language and a few words—a mixture that makes up her own language.
Delighting in new words
Kiwi gets such joy out of being understood. Perhaps her enjoyment of communication is from the contrast to frustration over not being understood—and our frustration when we just can’t decipher what she wants.
In the last month, Kiwi has learned many new words—well, her own version of words that make up her own language.
I’ve been trying to get her to say “side” when she wants to switch sides while breastfeeding instead of pulling at my bra or lifting up my shirt. (So impolite!) She now does say it when she’s ready to switch. Although it sounds more like “hi-dn,” she and I both smile and repeat the word to each other. She’s so busy saying “hi-dn” that it takes her a while before she finally gets down to business and drinks her milk.
And last week, while reading a book from the library, I looked up the sign for “baby.” She immediately caught on and signed it back. Now one of her favorite games is to sign “where” is the baby? Then she flips through the pages and points to the baby, signing as if she’s rocking an infant in her arms.
As Kiwi’s language develops, I’m beginning to see—or at least guess at—what’s going on in her mind.
One of her favorite things to do is jump, climb and run. She and her sister take turns climbing onto the ottoman or chair then leaping off—hopefully onto a blanket or mat that I’ve put down ahead of time.
When Kiwi falls, though, she’ll come over to me, sign “hurt,” point to wherever she bonked herself and then point to the chair she just leapt from—as if to say, “I hurt my elbow when I jumped off the seat.”
Her own language communicates more abstract thoughts, too. The other day she and Eric were looking at a book about animals. She pointed to the lizard then pointed off in the distance. After a few guesses, to which she shook her head “no,” Eric asked, “Are you thinking about Keegan’s bearded dragon, Spot?” Kiwi nodded and moved on to the next animal.
Through guessing, Eric figured out she was thinking about her cousin’s pet lizard that she loved when we visited them for Christmas.
It cracks me up that pointing in the distance can mean so many things. She’ll point away from us when she wants to go outside—or when she’s thinking of her grandparents’ chickens because I offered her a hardboiled egg.
Learning her own language—and teaching us
I had been concerned about Kiwi’s reliance on pointing rather than speaking, especially after she didn’t “pass” the developmental questionnaire on communication at her 18-month appointment. But we had her evaluated, and thanks in part to her pointing, grunting and signing, the special education evaluators had no concern about her development.
Kiwi doesn’t use nearly as many words as her same-age friends, but that’s ok. She has developed her own language—and we are adapting. She teaches us to understand her the more we “speak” to each other.
Whether she wants me to put peanut butter on a popsicle or remember the time she held her cousin’s pet lizard, she gets her point across one way or another.
Every day, she learns a new sign or practices an unfamiliar sound combination. And every day, I learn something from her.
Happy 19 months, Kiwi.