by Anna Wong
On a hot afternoon at Hospital Kuala Lumpur, while we were waiting for the shutter bus to arrive, my daughter asked, “Why so long?”
And part of the remaining conversation went like this:
Me : I don’t know, girl. Do you want to wait longer?
Daughter : Wait awhile more? Maybe [the bus] got stuck in the jam?
Me : Hmm...jam? There shouldn’t be any traffic jam within the hospital grounds!
Daughter : Why must [I] see this new doctor? Dr Susan says [she] must check my skin, ah?
Me : That’s right. She doesn’t know what is causing the rash, so we are seeing a skin specialist.
Daughter : Maybe we should walk...don’t see the bus at all!
And so, we abandoned the idea of getting a ride and started walking. Along the way, she asked about her skin condition again; we also talked about the hot weather and what we would have for lunch.
All of a sudden, I realised I was having a conversation with my daughter! I was used to a one-way communication and/or short answers. This was totally beyond my expectations! Hurray!
You may ask, “What’s the big deal?”
Well, my 17-year-old girl is a special child with speech impediment. She formed her first “words” when she was six months old and then, no new words until two years later. We knew she was rather quiet but didn’t realise she was speech-delayed until I sent her to pre-school at the age of three. Her little friends were chatting away while my daughter could only reply in one- or two-word answers. She also couldn’t manage any of the “Why?” questions.
We sent her for speech therapy when she was four. That was the first time that I had ever heard of a “speech therapist”. I found it rather strange that such a profession actually existed, and even stranger that there was a wait-list of three months! I later learnt that there were many reasons a child might need the services of a therapist to help him learn to “speak”.
My daughter seldom, if ever, initiated any conversation. I would have to encourage her to speak whenever the opportunity arises. I would ask her all kinds of questions and most times, she would give just short answers. I consoled myself that at the very least, she understood what was being said to her. However, I also knew that she would have to learn to communicate with the outside world.
Besides encouraging her to speak, I also had to teach her to cope with the “Why?” issues. For example, whenever we drove past the bus-stop, I would ask, “Why are the people sitting at the bus-stop?” and provided possible answers.
My answers would progress from “They are waiting for the bus” to “Perhaps they could also be waiting for someone to pick them up”. I would try to think of all the possible scenarios. One day I was pleasantly surprised when she gave her own answer, “They were tired and just resting at the bus-stop!” Now, that’s a possibility!
These days, she is beginning to initiate conversation. She also offers more information and is able to describe more things in greater detail. She can also joke! Just the other day, she remarked, “Mum’s brain is sleeping lah!” when I took awhile to answer my husband’s query. Aha, laughing at me now!
She would also comment on drivers who overtake without signalling or those who beat the red lights. And once in awhile, she would even give some uncalled-for comments! But hey, give her a break!
She still has to deal with the speed of her speech – she speaks faster then she thinks. Thus, her speech comes out unclear and those who are not familiar with her still have problems understanding her. She still has a long way to go, but I believe her desire to speak better will help her to overcome her challenges.
That is why I feel quite sad and frustrated when I see young children being given iPads and/or other gadgets to keep them company, instead of being engaged in conversation. Nowadays, I find that many parents under-value the importance of speaking to their children.
My hope is that these parents realise that if they do not talk to their kids, there will come a time when their kids would not see the need to speak to their parents. Or there may be a stage when the parents start complaining that they do not understand their kids and have no idea what their kids have been up to.
Develop a bond with your kids through meaningful conversation. Get to know your kids and cultivate a healthy two-way communication with your kids. We are all better connected through technology, yet we seem even more distant than before! Isn’t this totally ironic?
Gadgets are useful, but I believe there is a time and place for everything. Find a time to put away your phones and/or other modern appliances to connect with one another the old-fashioned way, and please do it before you lose your kids to the modern world!
Photo credit: Photostock/Freedigitalphotos.net