Twin Cities Mom Collective

The Surprising Reason My Son Wasn’t Talking

I’ve often considered writing an article titled, “Here, Let Me Make That Mistake For You!” Between a couple of other friends and myself, I think we have enough content to fill up a few posts. Perhaps they are less mistakes and more parenting oversights, but either way, they have caused us to stop and ask the question “Should I have known that?” on more than one occasion.

The first one that comes to mind is my friend whose husband slid down the slide with their baby daughter only to break her leg (yes, this commonly happens. But who knew?). The second that comes to mind is when my son wasn’t talking and he probably should have been. Completely unrelated, but both would probably make the list.

So, here it is. Not an article on all of those mistakes, but on one of them. Mine. Since there’s nothing we can do to prevent what’s already happened to our kids, maybe we can help prevent it from happening with yours. (Read: do not ride down the slide with your baby between your legs or on your lap. And consider reading through this if you’re concerned about your child’s speech). 

For me, my biggest, “should I have known that?” moment happened when my son was approaching his second birthday. You see, my son has always been average in his milestones and I was happy about that. Pretty similar to me as a kid. So when it came to talking, I wasn’t too surprised that he wasn’t saying much when he was approaching his second birthday. There’s a wide range of normal and I assumed his time would come. I probably read, “Leo the Late Bloomer,” one too many times, so I was comfortable with his development.

It’s hard not to compare your child to others. My niece is only a few days younger than my son but I always told myself it wasn’t fair to compare. Additionally, she’s a girl and girls talk sooner than boys…right? I wasn’t involved in an ECFE class at that point, so outside of family I didn’t have many other kids to measure him next to other than at church. But I wanted him to develop at his own pace and not feel pressure to be at a level he wasn’t ready to be.

Then he began to approach his second birthday.

Remember how I said I wasn’t in an ECFE class? Well, my sister was.

So, as he got closer and closer to that birthday and he was still struggling to say “mama” and everything he said sounded like the same muffled jumble of sounds, my sister spoke up.

“Maybe it’s his hearing?” She continued to tell me about a child in her ECFE class who had a hearing problem that affected their speech. The child’s mom shared their story with the class and my sister thought of my son.

Then I started to think about the way he talks.

It was less the fact that he wasn’t talking and more the way he was trying to talk. It all sounded the same. Even when he repeated different words after me, it came out sounding like the same word. Except it wasn’t a word. It was all a muffled mess of similar sounds.

I made the earliest appointment I could with a pediatric ENT and took him in.

Before that appointment, I began to wonder if my son wasn’t speaking because he’s growing up in a single parent household and maybe I don’t have as many opportunities to talk to him. Maybe he’d talk more if he were in daycare and not at home all day? Maybe I’m one of those individuals who is very educated in their field and can teach other people’s kids pretty well, but fail to teach my own child what they need to learn – like that rather important skill, called talking. I wasn’t sure where the deficit was, but at this point I was pretty certain it was my fault.

Then I took him to the doctor.

At his ENT appointment, it was soon discovered that he had mild hearing loss. He had been hearing as if he were underwater, or if he had his hands covering his ears all along.

And just like that we had an answer. 

So, it turns out it’s not because I’m a single mom, and it’s not because I didn’t talk to my son, or because I failed to teach my son what he needed to learn, or that I was intentionally allowing some sort of deficit to form in his development.

Thank God.

What happened was simple and there was no reason I would have known it was possible had my sister not mentioned the child in her ECFE class. I don’t know why I had never heard of this before. Should I have known this was possible? Why didn’t the doctors ever mention this?

My son had chronic fluid in his ears. Sometimes due to an ear infection and sometimes just on the brink of an ear infection. This was not enough for the pediatrician or urgent care staff to record in bold letters in his file, but it was just enough to cause hearing loss and in turn, have a major impact on his speech development.

When I was presented with options to help reverse the hearing loss, it was an easy choice.

He would get ear tubes.

The procedure itself was quick and easy and as his ENT surgeon put it, “could easily be done in the waiting room if kids were able to sit that still!” (Not exactly what I wanted to hear after getting the bill for the anesthesiologist, but again, this was a no brainer and completely worth it).

And worth it, it was. I remember when he woke up from surgery and began to startle easily at noises or when I’d talk. I could tell his hearing was already back. It was probably terrifying to him for a little while, but I was happy because he immediately began to make new sounds and it really wasn’t long before he called me mama.

So, why do I mull over this still and call it a mistake? It probably wasn’t a mistake. I did everything I could at the time with the information I had. But there was a lot I didn’t know and it’s the lack of information that I regret not having. It turns out because everything he had been hearing was muffled for so long, he missed out on some major milestones in his speech. While he immediately regained his hearing after his ear tubes were placed, the road to learning to articulate his words has been longer than I anticipated. And as he approaches preschool next year, I can’t help but to worry that his classmates won’t understand him as well as I do.

The good news is he qualified for speech services through our school district and he began speech therapy with an in-home speech clinician once a week when he turned two. He now attends a speech class through our school district for a couple of hours a week, and while he still has some progress to make with his speech, the kid never stops talking.

And I couldn’t be happier.


Original post published March 2015

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lindsay March 24, 2015 at 7:07 AM

same thing happened to us! It’s amazing what a little fluid in the ears can do. After getting tubes to drain the fluid, he’s a new guy–2.5 now and doesn’t stop talking!

Kristi Bothur April 1, 2015 at 3:27 PM

This is definitely the first thing to check in a child who lacks age-appropriate speech! Our son is speech-delayed as well, and that was one of the first things on our list to get checked. In his case, his hearing was fine and so we pursued other solutions, but the first question every professional has asked us is, “Have you had his hearing checked?” and we are glad to be able to answer yes.

Ellen July 3, 2015 at 11:41 PM

I heard those same words from an ENT doc almost 10 years ago. “Your daughter hears as if she’s under water.” She’d had 8 ear infections in as many months. Yet our pediatrician discouraged us from going to an ENT. I’m so glad I went because we got the tubes and she went 4 years before having another infection. She did require speech therapy but now she speaks and hears perfectly. Thanks for sharing your story.

Kristin April 12, 2017 at 11:54 PM

Very similar story as my daughter. She had chronic fluid in 1 ear that was not seen by her pediatrician. Never had an ear infection. She got tubes in December and can now speak in complete sentences at 2 1/2. The outpatient hospital bill was outrageous though. We are so very happy we asked the questions and pursued the truth.

Reginald January 23, 2019 at 10:49 AM

Thank you for the info. My son has the opposite happen. We did the surgery, but he was saying his words a lot clearer before. After the surgery, he has not improved and in some ways have regressed. He’s now two and half and he’s not saying his colors, and other words, anymore like before. We thought the surgery would help, but it hasn’t and the doctor can’t understand why.

Maureen Shealer Zhao January 23, 2019 at 12:10 PM

Oh goodness! That sounds very frustrating. I wonder if that’s something your local Early Childhood Special Education team could assess? We found them as a very useful resource when we were first trying to determine the source of my son’s speech struggles since they have experience with a wide range of speech and hearing differences. I sure hope your little one will be quickly back on the road to talking.

Breann Spencer May 16, 2019 at 2:15 PM

My son turned 2 in January and he wasn’t talking much or like your son, you couldn’t understand him. He just got tubes in his ears today. I was just wondering how long it took your son to start saying words or speaking more clearly? Thank you 🙂 I love this article

Rebecca July 24, 2019 at 6:45 AM

This is exactly what happened to my now 23 month old! He needed tubes and was also tongue tied. He had his surgery 1 month ago and has speech therapy once every 2 weeks and he’s already saying over 30 words including mama 😊. I too felt like a bad mom for not knowing he needed tubes and his tongue clipped even though all the doctors say “you couldn’t have known” I still felt awful like somehow it was my fault it wasnt caught sooner. Glad to know I’m not alone on this. Thank you for this wonderful article!

kate lyon January 20, 2022 at 12:44 PM

Thank you for this input. My daughter’s 2.5 and she can say words, colors etc, but not fluently. She’s had 3 ear infections in the last 6 months with bulge. She’s getting referred to ENT. I hope it helps her

Dr. Binny Vashist April 23, 2023 at 5:25 AM

My Son had a tongue tie since birth. But we could not get to know about it until we met Pediatric Dentist. Tongue removal led to his clear speech. Thanks for informative blog


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