Brother, I want to Talk to you

Jacob has a “severe expressive language disorder”. Jacob has “good communicative intent”. Jacob “related better to adults than children, with whom he finds it hard to communicate”.

Jacob has always wanted to talk, he had such a wide range of sing-songy sounds when he was a baby I was told several time “he’ll be an early talker”. Sadly that wasn’t to be, and now, at approaching five he has a very limited repertoire of words and only some speech sounds. He relies on signing to communicate and of course this requires the person he’s “talking” too to also know sign language and to know Jacob’s particular way with certain signs. It’s almost impossible for him to communicate with people who don’t know him. Not that it stops him trying, he particularly likes trying to sign “cuddle” to women (flirt). He’s currently being assessed to see if he’s suitable for AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication), I’m not sure if the possibility of this thrills me or frightens me.

I’ve noticed that parents with a child with speech problems seem to adopt a strangely similar way of speaking and gradually I’ve noticed that Harry has started to speak to his big brother in the same way. He very cutely affirms Jacob’s every attempt to make words with a “Yes, it’s a ‘blah blah blah’ Jacob”,  and this mirrors what I do to positively respond to both boys attempts to say words, whether it’s Harry grappling with “indecisive” or Jacob trying to say “ball”. It’s so funnily perceptive that Harry is now carrying out speech therapy techniques on his big brother. It also makes me feel a tiny bit sad.

Harry is a great talker, and yes I do mean this two ways. He never shuts up AND he is scarily mature in his speech and his understanding. This is probably as a result of all the speech therapy he’s had forced upon him, being dragged along to his first SALT appointment at barely a month old. His growing awareness of the world has meant that he’s just started to become aware that Jacob is different and he is obviously concerned and confused by it at times. He’s still so little that I struggle with knowing the best way to explain things to him.

One morning, we were in Jacob’s bedroom playing about and getting dressed when Harry said to me “It’s alright Mummy. He’s OK. Jakey’s OK, he can talk now” and this was the first time I realised that Harry knew that Jacob’s lack of speech was something that worried me, something that set Jacob apart from other boys  his age and from other big brothers. I was in awe of his powers of perception, sad that he obviously desperately wants his brother to be able to speak and so touched that he was trying to reassure me. It moved me to, very hastily disguised, tears.

When Jacob went to hospital for his MRI Harry was ecstatic and excited when we returned, but it soon became clear that this was because he thought the doctors were going to have made Jacob better and that he’d now be able to talk to him. He said to me “Jacob’s better now, the doctor made him better and now he can talk”. I gently tried to explain that this hadn’t happened. He was visibly deflated when he realised nothing had changed. He’s desperate to talk to his brother, to play imaginative games and to talk together about what’s happening. I wonder whether to try to explain that this moment might never come, will my saying out loud to Harry mean I’m accepting the possibility my eldest son might never have a conversation, might never say Mummy? What if I try to explain all this to Harry and Jacob proves me wrong (oh God, how I hope that he does)? How can I explain these things that both upset and perplex me to a two year old?

Harry tells everyone “Jakey is a great brother” before hugging him and shortly afterwards bashing him over the head with a car he doesn’t want to share; so far, so two-year-old-normal. But what of Jacob, what does he think? I imagine he’s frustrated by the fact that his understanding is so far ahead of his ability to communicate. In my head I just hear this:

Talk by Coldplay

Oh brother I can’t, I can’t get through
I’ve been trying hard to reach you, cause I don’t know what to do
Oh brother I can’t believe it’s true
I’m so scared about the future and I wanna talk to you