My sweet Sophie girl is turning four years old today. I’m so blessed to be her mama. What an honor. I’m always amazed as her birthday draws near each year by how much she has changed since her last birthday. Each year, I find that I reflect on what the last year has held as she prepares to enter a new year. And of course, I consider how quickly time is passing, and how much further she will progress in this next year. (Dear Lord, PLEASE let that include potty training!!!!)
The better part of Sophie’s past year was characterized by frustration. Her inability to verbalize her thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs severely cramped her style. This was especially exacerbated by her brother’s ability to speak, which emerged at his tender age of 9 months (right around the time Sophie turned 3). My sweet easy-going, good humored, smiley little girl was largely absent this past year.
When Sophie was turning 3, she knew only basic signs. We had not yet started teaching her American Sign Language. She had no words at all, only some spontaneous babble that really didn’t mean anything. In March, when she was just three years and one month old, we began to inundate our world with American Sign Language. Within a month, Sophie was signing upwards of 60 signs. By summer, she was signing well over 100 signs. I will never forget the moment she initiated her first signs to me (as opposed to just responding to me), signing “I love you.” When she finally had the ability to tell me something, to express her own thoughts, that was what she needed to say. There are simply no words to express how I feel in my heart about this.
Sophie began preschool shortly after she turned three, to continue state-funded speech therapy, and for exposure to children her own age using words to communicate, in hopes that this would aid her own language development. She remained silent. When school came to a close, we pursued private speech therapy to fill the gap in school therapy over the summer.
This was when the magic began to happen.
Immediately, Sophie was diagnosed with severe apraxia of speech. Slowly, painstakingly, with great effort, and much practice, she gained the ability to intentionally imitate single sounds — ma, da, ba, pa. From there, she slowly began to put sounds together. By fall at 3 1/2 years old, after 5 months of therapy, she had about 20 basic words like mama, dada, bubba, bye-bye, more, go, etc. We worked so hard for those words.
Click here to see a video of Sophie’s speech progress this past fall, just five months ago: sophie_speaks_fall15
I cannot watch this video without a flood of emotions and tears, lots of tears, seeing how far she’s come in five months.
As winter approached, quite suddenly, Sophie began to try any and all words. In spite of her continued struggle with apraxia which dramatically affects her pronunciation, her speech light bulb has turned on. We are overjoyed! She is now about 75% intelligible to those who speak with her daily, and probably 25% intelligible to the outside world. But, what a huge difference from our silent Sophie of one year ago! You can see Sophie’s current speech progress here, as she reads her favorite book “Newton” with me: sophie_reads_newton
As a four year old, Sophie now has hundreds of words and signs. She can count to twenty and knows all of her letters, shapes, and colors. She knows emotions such as happy, sad, scared, and frustrated. She can name all household objects, foods, familiar people and toys. She runs around her environment naming things simply because she CAN! She still has moments of frustration, but I would not characterize her days by this trait any longer. Now she just seems happy.
As we close her 3s and begin her 4s, we see a completely different child. It’s almost like we’ve gone back to the child that we started with, actually. Sophie has always been easy going, sweet as a peach, and of good humor with lots of smiles. As a three year old, that demeanor was largely absent. Her frustration over her lack of speech trumped everything, causing so much frustration, many tantrums, and few smiles. But now that she’s speaking, my sweet peach is emerging once again.
Sophie enjoys life. She spins around in circles until she’s too dizzy to stand, giggling all the while. She loves to be tickled. She loves to cuddle and to read books. She eagerly enters her classroom each morning, excited to greet her friends and play.
We have learned more as a family and as followers of Christ than I could ever explain here in the silent years, and we continue to learn now that Sophie is verbalizing. Most of all, we are aware of how awesome our God is as we have watched him do beautiful, miraculous things in Sophie’s life. When she was diagnosed with developmental delays at just four months old, our future, her future, held so much uncertainty. But God has met us at each and every moment; he’s carried us through many of those moments. He’s shown us over and over that nothing is too difficult for him. He is Sophie’s creator, and he is doing beautiful things with her life.
As Sophie turns four today, I pray that Jesus will grant her a year filled with his joy as she continues to learn to express herself verbally. And most of all, may her words ever glorify his goodness.