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Bilingual 3 year old - communication and behavioural issues - anxieties

(16 Posts)
Marionlam Fri 04-Jan-13 23:10:54

Hi mums...

Before I try and explain my worries, I must say that I accept that bilingualism is probably not the cause of our problems and that bilingual kids tend to talk later than monolingual kids. That said, my main concern is that by using my son's bilingualism as a constant excuse we may not be dealing with underlying issues on the communication front.

My eldest son is 37 months. He took a while to talk and he's a fair bit behind his peers in both French and English (majority language). He seems to be making slow yet steady progress though.

He has always been quite shy, but recently he has developed a lot of fears which I struggle to understand. He is scared of balloons, water, darkness (so far, nothing unusual), pass-the-parcel(!), closed doors, won't be left with a babysitter with the exception of nursery and Granny and gets up screaming at night for no apparent reason... Because he is not very articulate, it is rather difficult discussing these anxieties with him and he (and we!) gets frustrated when we try to insist. I swear he could win the prize of the kid who can stare at you in silence for the longest...!

We also seem to struggle to communicate and engage into conversations. He looses interest very quickly or doesn't respond at all, and in some cases I think he doesn't understand what we're saying to him. I'd say that the latter is more apparent in his minority language (French), but then that is the one I use with him so I'm bound to notice it more...

I keep telling myself that all the above is common at his age and we have generally been putting it down to the terrible 2s / 3s, but I just wondered if anyone else has experienced anything similar ( be it with monolingual or bilingual kids), and if anyone had experience of actual speech delay / communication therapy whilst keeping up the 2 languages. Also, does anyone know what speech therapy actually consists of? Is there any tips I could use...?

Thanks for your comments!

alexpolismum Sat 05-Jan-13 18:47:49

I can't help you with the other problems you mention in your post, but my younger son is now 3 and doesn't speak much and shows only limited understanding. He has a speech delay and other as yet undiagnosed SN. We are a bilingual Greek - English family, minority English. My other children started talking between 12 and 15 months.

We take him to a therapist twice a week. To be honest I am not sure what the English equivalent would be (we live in Greece, where it is known as "ergotherapy"), but I am sure you can find out. She encourages him to talk by sounding out simple vocab to do with things that are important to his life - drink, eat, mummy, daddy, play ball, play car. She sounds the words out gradually. For example, "mama" (mummy in Greek) - she starts by going "mmm" then pauses, then "mmmmaaaa" then "mmmmaaaammmm" then "mmmmaaaammmaaa" - you get the idea. She is very insistent and always says these things in a loud "teacher" voice, enunciates very very clearly. This has got him started and he now says "mama" and has attempted to say "ball".

She does a lot of repetition with him - eg "Ball. Look, ball. A ball for you. Take the ball. Play with the ball. We like balls. Ball. Ball. Ball."

Of course, I don't know how specific this is to my son's SN; another approach may be more appropriate for your child! But it can't do any harm.

I have been advised that even with his SN, bilingualism can only be helpful for him, so keep at it!

noramum Sat 05-Jan-13 21:21:48

Have you ever had his ears checked? For me it doesn't sound like delay due to two languages to be honest.

Undetected hearing problems are a big issue when it comes to speech delay.

My friend's monolingual child was very delayed and only after constant nagging from her mum they agreed to do a proper hearing test and glue ears were the cause.

Marionlam Mon 07-Jan-13 17:33:07

We had his ears checked twice and I'm told he's fine... To me it doesn't seem like a hearing problem, I'd say more a general communication issue. A mix of shyness and frustration at the fact that he doesn't know how to express himself...

Thanks Alex, but most of the words he knows are understandable (at least to us!). It's more the fact that he can't seem to construct a sentence that makes sense, and certainly not anything out of context. As you say, maybe it's different in the uk, but maybe speech therapy isn't what we need...

The HV was as unhelpful as expected and told me to stop speaking French to him, apart from maybe a story at night! If I do that it'll be the end of it and it may not even help, so I'd rather explore all other avenues first, and perhaps give it a bit more time. They say boys tend to talk later anyway.

noramum Tue 08-Jan-13 08:21:41

Try to get a referral to a speech therapist specialised to work with bilingual children.

Your HV is crap.

Marionlam Wed 09-Jan-13 13:43:54

As you quite rightly pointed out, my HV isn't particularly useful or even interested, so is there another way to get referred?

Bonsoir Wed 09-Jan-13 13:47:18

My DD is bilingual English-French. French is the majority language but she has always been a bit further ahead in English than in French.

At your son's age she had been at école maternelle for a term and could understand and speak both languages. I would say that all her similarly bilingual peers were also fluent in both. I think you need to investigate your DS' language and behavioural traits with a professional. In London there are most definitely private speech therapists who can help children who are bilingual in French and English and I would urge you to see one out.

insanityscratching Wed 09-Jan-13 13:50:38

I would see your GP and ask for a referral to a developmental paediatrician. It could well be that the bilingualism is masking other difficulties with communication. Does he point to draw your attention to things of interest, wave, bring things to you to share? Does he need strong routines? What is he like with his peers? Do nursery have concerns?

noramum Thu 10-Jan-13 07:12:30

Speak to a GP or check with the HV's supervisor.

strumpetpumpkin Sun 13-Jan-13 11:19:56

My 5 year old son has ASD and obviously without making some armchair diagnosis, it sounds like some traits may be there with your son so its worth maybe mentioning to your helth visitor. With regards to the bilingulism, hes much further behind with all aspects of languge than his younger sister, but we have carried on with OPOL regardless, and with the blessing of all the various specialists. He appears to be progressing with his comprehension fairly well, although will not answer in french unless really pushed and even then he is hard to understand as his speech is not always clear even in english. Bilingualism doesnt usually cause a massive speech delay. I would suggest looking at other things

natation Sun 13-Jan-13 11:32:41

Can you ask your nursery to make their observations, covering social, communication, motor skills. Ask them to be completely honest with you.

I work in a nursery age class (3-4 years) and there are 2 children in the class who are noticeably different and the teacher already has them flagged up. One is bilingual and the mum is insisting he is only behind in language, in fact language is the least of our worries, he is completely lost in social and communication of all types, the mum refuses to listen, we're more concerned with the mum than the child.

You're doing the right thing, I'd be asking for a referral to a paediatrician, assessment on his own and also with peers.

LadyMargolotta Sun 13-Jan-13 11:42:53

What country are you in Marionlam?

We have had similar issues with ds, who is now four. A year ago we realised that his speaking was significantly behind. The health visitor wasn't any help, neither was his school as he had a string of temporary teachers that year. He is a very well behaved little boy, and I don't think his teachers even noticed him. They mainly fobbed us off with bi-lingulaism being the reason for his problems.

Finally we found and paid for a private speech therapist. She has helped ds get referrals to other clinic for developmental problems, we are looking at dyspraxia and speech dyspraxia as potential diagnoses, as well as other things which I won't go into now.

So even though the speech therapy isn't helping as we had hoped (although he has definitely made some progress), it's been very helpful for him to be seen regularly by a professional who has picked up on these problems.

And sympathies with the crying at night time. Ds still rarely sleeps through the night, and cries most nights, and it is very hard when they cannot express what they need. Especially when it's been going on for four years.

LadyMargolotta Sun 13-Jan-13 11:45:11

oh and we self referred to both the paediatrician and speech therapist.

His teacher this year has been a lot more helpful, and has filled in tons and tons of forms for him for his referrals.

Marionlam Wed 16-Jan-13 12:28:31

Hi all - thanks for your feedback and support.

Our GP is referring us to a developmental paediatrician.

Why do I feel so sad about it all? Ultimately, we love him regardless and he's a happy little boy most of the time, so there's nothing dramatic about it, right?

Natation - his key worker at nursery thinks he's not too bad. She places him slightly ahead (40-56 months bracket) on motor skills and slightly behind (20-40 month bracket) on language skills. Even since he reached talking age I've been hearing people telling me that he's fine and that bilingualism tends to cause speech delay, and yet I can't shake that feeling that he's struggling to communicate...

*big sigh*

Chislemum Wed 16-Jan-13 18:16:45

Marionlam - don't be so disheartened (re big sigh).... he is a lucky boy having such a wonderful mother.

Marionlam Mon 20-Oct-14 21:45:41

Well, how ironic, I've just stumbled across my own post here whilst looking for help with the very same issue, nearly two years on.....

So, little lad has got bigger, his language has got better, he sleeps better, but there is still some evidence of communication being difficult for him. He started school a month ago, and it's the third time the teacher tells him off and reports to us that he's been hitting his friends. When I ask him why, I get something along the lines of "because they're not my friends", and I can't get past that....

The teacher has been really helpful, she started a sticker chart for him, and she has talked to the various people involved in watching him so we can try and establish the trigger for his behaviour. We have confiscated his scooter for the rest of the week (as threatened last time he did this), and I spent an hour and a half asking him various questions today to try and get to the bottom of this (quite proud to say I didn't lose patience...!). It seems he struggles with kids "not playing with him", but I can't decide if he's the one too shy to ask, or if they say no, of if they play for a while and then something goes wrong....

I'm not sure how deep a conversation a nearly-5-year-old should be able to understand, regardless of how many languages they speak.... Ours involved a lot of "I don't know"s....!

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