We Don’t Talk No Baby Talk Round Here!

Do you remember the days when people spent more time raising their own children than telling other people how to raise theirs?  When no one particularly cared what brand of baby bottles you were using, whether or not you breastfed a respectable period of time, what philosophy of child-rearing you subscribe to, or how much TV you allow your kids to watch?  Yes, I know that everybody has always had an opinion.  That certainly hasn’t changed.  But everyone didn’t seem to be quite so determined fifty years ago to impose it on others.

I look at blog posts, education journals, and parenting articles and I see a lot of highly vocal parental pride.

We are believers in attachment parenting.”

We share a ‘family bed.'”

“We live an organic lifestyle.'”

“We breastfed exclusively for two years.”

Please do not misunderstand me.  I have no contempt whatsoever for these parenting styles and practices.  And I’m all for people raising their children with thought and a deliberate attention to their children’s needs.  It’s the tone of moral superiority some proponents of various parenting theories get that unnerves me.

I came across one such sound bite the other night.  Actor Neil Patrick Harris was doing the obligatory parental bragging about his twins and boasted that his family has a “no baby talk” policy.

Now when I say I’m annoyed with this, please do not interpret that as me being all kinds of upset with Neil Patrick Harris.  He isn’t the first person to say it, and he is in all likelihood a perfectly nice man who clearly adores his children.  He simply repeated a phrase that is echoed by many parents –some of whom are excessively confident in their child-rearing convictions.  I’ve been guilty of it too, so let’s not run out and throw stones.  We’re none of us perfect — which is precisely my motivation for writing this.

As a teacher and a parent of both a highly verbal, early talking child and a child with an autism spectrum disorder with severe language delays, it annoys me when people self-righteously proclaim they “don’t speak baby talk” to their children or that their children are so verbal now because they didn’t then. Language acquisition is so much more complex than that.  Children thrive the more they are spoken to and interacted with period, no matter what the language or style of speaking.  There are behavioral studies in linguistics that demonstrate high-pitched speech toward infants is normal across most cultures.  It appears to be somewhat instinctive.  And, really, there are an awful lot of brilliant and articulate men and women throughout history whose mothers and fathers spoke sing-song silliness to their beloved babies.

Neil Patrick Harris obviously was not discussing autism or special needs conditions.  Nor are most of the “no baby talk” proponents.  But when they make these statements,they are implying that baby talk is somehow harmful to typical childrens’ language development.   Parents whose children are language delayed or simply not as impressive as their more precocious peers, have now been put on notice that they are somehow to blame for this.

Ditto for TV watching.  Yes, yes, I know all about this debate as well and have read the same studies as you have.  And, certainly, children are much better off running around outside making mud pies than watching cartoons.  However, I do not buy the argument that children who’ve seen a little television are miles behind in their development.  I – and most of my friends – grew up watching an awful lot of Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, The Electric Company, and so forth.  In the evenings, I loved The Dukes of Hazard and Charlie’s Angels.  Despite my obviously intellectually deficient childhood,  not only do I know how to wield a library card, I also managed to graduate college.  So I don’t buy the “developmental delays are caused by watching too much television” argument either.  The same thing goes for children who were bottle fed, made to sleep in their own beds, or given processed food once in a while.

When people have misconceptions about the causes of developmental delays (or the lack of excessive genius even), I get tense.  And my opinion itches to be set free.  Because having it implied that you are to blame for a child’s delays hurts – and hurts needlessly.  When you say to a parent of a child struggling developmentally that they should start or stop doing some particular thing, you are possibly coming at someone who lives with self-doubt every day.  We all wonder what we could have done or could do better.  We question our decisions.    And some may wonder if it really was Yo Gabba Gabba that caused their child’s autism after all.  (For the record?  It wasn’t.)  The truth is that, with the exception of severe neglect and malnutrition,  most developmental delays have a physiological or genetic cause.  Despite the abundance of information proving that, people still feel free to share their “expertise” with hapless parents everywhere.

Having a developmentally delayed child is much like standing in dirt crossroad in the middle of nowhere.  The right path is not clearly marked.  We try to peek a bit down every road to determine the best one to take.  There are few road signs and no mile markers. You set off down the road you have carefully chosen.  You hear the people off in the distance who took other paths.  Some of them – whose proximity you can’t quite determine – are reporting how terrible their journeys are.  Some of them are joyfully shouting how pleased they are with theirs.  You can’t tell who is closer or farther away.  With each successive voice added, you are left standing alone on the road trying to determine if you should begin making your way back to choose another.  You are left amidst a cacophony of voices shouting at you to head in their direction.  But, in the end, you are still standing on that road all alone, tightly holding the hand of your child while trying to appear confident.   It’s a frightening and lonely feeling.  One no parent will ever forget.

And the thoughtless comments and boasting of others can take you right back to that road in that moment of indecision.

Here’s what we know for certain about raising children:

1.  They need to know they are loved and valued.

2.  They need to be protected from illness and harm.

3.  They need clothing, nourishing food, and shelter.

4.  They need an appropriate education.

5.  They need opportunities to play and safely explore their world.

That’s about it.  It doesn’t matter what race, religion, or tribe you hail from, this is what you need to grow into a healthy, well-adjusted adult.  And I just want to take a moment to say to all of the parents out there whose children are receiving these five basic things:   You are a good mom.  You are a good dad.  Your children are who they were meant to be all along.  You’re doing a good job — not matter who is suggesting otherwise.

And I’m going to try to say it to myself more often – the me who worries, overanalyzes, and doubts.  The me who believes it easily of others but finds it harder to believe it of myself.   For, like all of you, I’m really doing the best I can.

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything.  You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.”  ~Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986

So, what annoying things have been suggested to you for better raising your special needs child?

19 thoughts on “We Don’t Talk No Baby Talk Round Here!

  1. Leslie

    Annoying thing suggested to me: If I read to my son more, he would be speaking by now. Not sure about other kids on the spectrum, but my then 2 year old son could give a rat’s A about sitting still and listening to a book about anything. Apparently since I didn’t read him 10 books a day, it is my fault he is speech delayed.

  2. Kim

    Had to laugh. The most awful suggestion given to my husband and I was that we check out Dr. Phil’s books on parenting. I remember smiling politely and thanking the person for their concern. :p

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      Kim, are you by any chance an Episcopalian Southern Belle? That’s exactly what I would have said! It’s a double whammy of good public deportment training. lol)

        1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

          If you ever stop by our neck of the woods, I’ll make you an honorary belle. If you had merely thrown in a “bless your heart”, you’d be set. LOL

  3. Victoria Helen Maroney

    Thank you for this posting because I’ve had the same kinds of unsolicited advice flung at me too. People have even used my daughter’s disability as a weapon against me before now…… I’ve decided to stop guilt in its tracks from now on and question the thoughts that come into my mind on my parenting skills. I think it’s more important to enjoy being with Rebecca than to worry excessively. We try our best as parents and try to do a little bit better each day. I feel that’s enough!!

  4. Katie

    Several people suggested to me that I let my son walk all over me. We don’t yell and we don’t punish since 80% of the behavior he can’t help. It’s just going to take time and patience and correcting repeatedly, but not necessarily punishing. Oh, and I didn’t really do much baby talk with any of my kids (not on purpose, just sort of how I speak) and it made no difference. Three kids, all taught the same, yet one is still on the spectrum. And I had to laugh at Leslie’s comment about reading. My son would rather eat and tear the pages then let me read to him when he was 2. Now that he’s 5 we will read short books together, but at 2…forget it.

    1. Jen

      I’ve had people tell me the same thing, that I let my son get away with too much. But really, you have to pick your battles. Not everything is worth the fight, the hysteria and frustration.

  5. Cynthia M

    I’ve been a parent for 30 years, and other parents were just as opinionated and even competitive way back then. It seems to have been around forever. You’ve got your priorities straight; just keep on loving them and letting them know they’re loved.

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      Perhaps this is why I love Victorian literature and history. They thought it, but polite society knew not to come right out and say it. Perhaps repression had its good points? Lol

  6. Carrie

    I encountered this blame game even before birth. Knowing the preliminary diagnosis based on sonograms, we grilled potential pediatricians. When one asked me if I “smoked the pot,” you can bet he was immediately off the list. I was the world’s most careful pregnant person, and before that I was the world’s most boring and careful person. Zero risk factors. But we found ourselves in “Holland,” and we’re dealing with the situation. I get so tired of blanket statements about pregnancy, birth method, and child-rearing. There are no absolutes when you get down to specifics like that. It’s not a 100% if/then equation. They are not computers being programmed.

  7. Howlin' Mad Heather

    Mom and Dad never knew I was on the spectrum and never spoke to me in baby talk. I didn’t talk at all until I was 1 or so, and then in complete sentences. Interesting post, and very informative too.

  8. mommywritervkent

    As a mother of three, i have learned that each child is different. Each has their own personality, rate of learning, how they learn and retain what they learn, etc… No book, Dr or anyone else can TELL you how you are supposed to do things the right way. When it comes to doing the right thing, you do it and just know its the right thing for your child. Abd while there is such a thing as the Wrong kind of parenting…absuing, yelling, neglect, etc… Most often the wrong gets looked at first. Why? Because all the people who point the finger so quickly are usually the ones with the most guilt and have to find some kind of way to justify their wrong so they feel better. I appreciate your boldness with posting this. You are saying what many of us have been thinking and i commend you for doing so 😉

  9. Krissy Bright

    You must have read my mind this past 2 weeks. People who I know and don’t know me from Adam have seen my husband and myself do babytalk to our little girl. I know from having a severe speech disorder and disability that it does help. People who mean well do not get the point that not everyone is the same child, even with kids on the Autistic Spectrum. If people would think before they speak….maybe the things that come out of their mouth would more of empathy than of harsh criticism.

  10. Jen

    I can relate so well! I know intellectually that my son’s challenges are NOT MY FAULT, but there are times I still wonder what else I could’ve or should’ve done, what I shouldn’t have done, and I could or should be doing. And then I wonder if everything I’m doing is actually helping: the homeschool, the physical, speech and physical therapy, the diet changes, etc., etc.

    I’ve seen more doctors and specialists for my kid than for myself in my entire life, I think. I know he sees more than many of my friends’ kids. And yet, I am still searching for answers.

    But I have to say, the most irritating thing I ever heard from anyone, and it was a child psychologist, which makes it even worse, is that my son “isn’t socialized enough”. Excuse me?! I do not lock him away and hide him from the world. We go to a regular homeschool playgroup, with 4-9 other kids, the park, the zoo, the museum, the store… In fact, he goes almost everywhere I go. He gets to interact with other people of all ages and backgrounds. Some days, this is easy for him. Most days, not so much. See, he lacks the ability to pick up on social cues, such as when someone walks away and he follows, not knowing they are trying to get away from him, or that they aren’t really listening to whatever it is he is going on (incessantly) about. And he has absolutely no concept of “personal space”. Right now, I am simply hoping that someday these concepts click for him. Until then, I try to smoothe over the awkwardness caused by his obliviousness.

  11. Julie

    “People are good at different things.” It’s something my best friend beat into my brain, and she’s absolutely right. Our “different” kids are good at different things than their siblings. And sometimes BETTER at them. They see patterns that others miss, they can literally watch the grass grow, and some are masters of manipulation ;-).

    If people ask, you bet I’m going to give them my opinion. Or if you’re related or very close to me, I’m probably going to share — out of love and an attempt to make your life easier. But if strangers or acquaintances do stupid things with their children (so long as they’re not dangerous or infringing), it’s their right as parents. Haven’t yet met the person who did it 100% correctly.

  12. Cathy Ballou Mealey

    When I met with our SpEd director to request additional services for our son, she offered me the best advice that her sons’ pediatrician had given her: “Just practice tough love.”

    I was flabbergasted. Then I asked, “Do you really have two sons with autism?”

    “Oh NO!” she replied, as if I had asked whether they had 3 heads.

  13. tagAught

    Reading through this, I have to agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. Not that I’m a parent (and I have no interest in being one – I wouldn’t be able to survive as a parent), but I see what my parents are going through *now*, when we’re trying to work on some of my behaviours that we now recognize are on the spectrum, and I have to shake my head. (I’m in my mid-thirties, and was only really acknowledged as an Aspie a few years ago, and only officially diagnosed last March.)

    Your five points that parents should follow are also very well thought out, in my opinion. *Those* are the important things. (I know because we had a few failings with #1 and #5 with me – not anyone’s fault, really, but my younger sister had a ton of allergies and was bi-polar, so they had to pay a lot of attention to her, and I was a quiet kid who was happy to play by myself. Especially as said sister turned into a bully towards me.)

    My mother says that in a number of cases (mentioned specifically reading and riding a bicycle) I would insist on learning, and then back away when we seemed to be making progress. Then a few months later I would insist again, rinse and repeat. But when I finally made the step to learn both, I was doing both very quickly. (Now, having read some other information on how kids on the spectrum seem to learn in fits and starts, plateauing and then jumping ahead, it makes *sense*.)

    So good for you. Keep telling yourself that you’re doing all you can… and in some ways (namely this blog) you’re doing more than can be expected of you. You’re sharing your experience with others, without pushing it on people – they have the choice as to whether to read your blog or not. That’s giving people who *do* feel they need help or advice the chance to decide for themselves what they want to do.

    I commend you for everything that you’re doing, and I say keep it up. As long as your little boy knows points 1 through 5, he’ll be able to hold onto those facts when everything around seems chaotic and incomprehensible. Cheers to you!

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