“When June gets mad, she uses this crazy voice that doesn’t sound like it fits inside her tiny body!” is a line June’s pre-K teacher used to describe her the other day. Another time, our beloved Mrs. Price said, “She’s so little and so cute, but man, she’s got the FIRE in her.”
(Did I mention she was in a cast this summer? Because she was.)
Welcome to June’s world. June loves to sing, to pretend, to “jump” (her version includes feet never leaving the ground), to swing and to slide. June rarely talks to kids her own age, but instead latches onto adults she knows will give her the things she wants.
June started school this year. She is attending an all-day, everyday Pre-K program at our local elementary school which is intended to help kids with “developmental delays.” If you’re wondering what that means, so am I. From what I gather, it is a term used for young kids who aren’t meeting their milestones. June struggles with speech (talking) and language (understanding) and qualified for this special program in order to help sort it all out.
(June on a typical morning—singing while wearing her “glove.”)
When June was being evaluated by the school district for the ELP program, I didn’t know what my exact reaction would be to whatever they would tell me. Would they even see the problems I see? June’s pediatrician (who is awesome, by the way) didn’t view any problems with June’s speech because she was using three words together in a sentence. I didn’t know how to convey to her that, while meeting the technical requirement of a sentence, the words didn’t seem to be actually conveying anything June wanted or felt. Though June could say things, she couldn’t communicate.
The speech therapist evaluating June didn’t have a lot of time that day. The other speech therapist in the office had to take a sick day, so she was covering evaluations for the both of them. In the short 30 minutes she spent with June, I didn’t know if she could sense the disconnect that only I seemed to feel with June. The speech therapist played with a dollhouse, stacked blocks and sorted colors all the while talking about various subjects.
“What’s your name, June?”
“My name . . . June Jowwey!”
The therapist looked at me and smiled. June is nothing if not adorable. And yet very stubborn.
The therapist attempted to guide June to another activity. June refused, content with holding her little animals and making them talk gibberish to each other. The therapist tried another and yet another activity, to no avail. Finally she turned to me and said, “I sense some non-compliance from her.”
“You can call it that, if you want. I just call it stubborn.” We both laughed, me a little nervously. I couldn’t help but feel a little responsible for the fact that June rarely complies with requests.
At the conclusion of the hurried evaluation, the speech therapist sat on her knees in front of my chair. First she shared June’s test scores. “Now Ms. Jolley, I want you to know that these kinds of tests score against a child when the child is non-compliant and refuses to answer a certain question, so really this score is going to be much lower than June’s capabilities.”
“Here’s the wind-up,” I thought, bracing myself for the fastball coming my way. She shared the scores, which were more than a standard deviation below average. I felt a little sick.
“This is what I’m seeing here. June is using what I call ‘scripted language’. She has memorized lines she likes to say, but they are not appropriate for the situations she is in.”
“YES!!” I screamed. I felt so relieved. Someone understood me. It struck me at that moment that June and I were both struggling to be understood—June with her speech and me with my concerns about June’s speech. When the speech therapist validated what I had been feeling, it motivated me all the more to help June feel understood as well.
So June started school. The first day she came home and pointed out a triangle and talked about using the potty—things we had been working on for a long time. I knew school was going to be awesome after that.
(First day of school wearing her school uniform.)
And awesome it has been, though there have been setbacks—epic tantrums June has thrown over having to follow the rules, the first week where June wouldn’t stop stealing parts of other kids’ lunches and stuffing them in her face before the teacher softly suggested I start packing June her own pizza lunchable, the several days (still ongoing) where June has decided that she is a “doggy” and stays in character all day, etc. But she’s talking more. And responding more. And we are all feeling a lot happier.