He Doesn’t Speak Very Well But You Can Play With Him: The Heartache Of Parenting A Child With A Speech Delay


We are the only other ones at the park and I see you look at my son.  I know what you want and I’m dreading it.  You skip over to him and ask,  “Would you like to play with me?” I hold my breath and silently pray that you lose interest. He looks up and laughs. Although he may be your same height, he doesn’t have your same vocabulary. You look at me not understanding. I pretend not to have heard. You say it again louder this time and I can see the hurt building up in your eyes.

As I turn around I quickly search my thoughts and say, “He doesn’t speak very well, but you can play with him”.

I can see the excitement in your eyes and I am just so thankful in that moment. You grab the jump rope and have him hold the other end as you show him how to make it go around in a circle. You are both so happy to have a friend. I quickly try to diminish my own anxieties and fear that you are going to reject him because I honestly wouldn’t be able to bear the pain on his face. Other children start showing up and I can tell they are closer to your age and development. My fear starts to rise and I know this is it. But you stay with him and play with him until you have to go.

Like an Achilles heel, this is my vulnerability: My child with a speech delay. 

I have never heard my child utter his name, not even once. There was one night I begged him and pleaded through my exhaustion, “Just say your name! Cam-er-on! You can do it!” He wanted to get out of bed to play so bad that night and I gave him an ultimatum, say your name and you can get out. I was at my wit’s end. I felt broken. He looked at me with absolute cluelessness in his eyes. That look will forever be ingrained in my mind, just like the first time I saw his face in the hospital right after he was born.  I walked out of the room and it hit me like a ton of bricks. You have absolutely no idea what I’m saying.  It was undeniable he didn’t speak as well as his peers but the sudden realization that he also didn’t understand what we were saying felt like a punch in the gut. I felt sick.

With a restless night of research, I got up the next morning and signed him up for pre-school and scheduled a speech evaluation. Several weeks later we learned he has a severe expressive and receptive language delay. 

When we go to the pool other parents listen to this expressive gibberish and gestures and laugh. They look to me to translate. I just smile and laugh and will say something generic like, “That’s too funny!” or “Wow, that’s pretty cool!” because I have no idea what he is saying either. The other parents nod in agreement amazed that I was able to understand and finally come out and ask, “How old is he?” Sometimes I lie and say he is younger than he is, sometimes I explain about his language disorder, and other times I simply answer the question. You can see the questions in their faces that they are too polite to ask. Although I am likely making it up, I can see them making a mental check mark in their head giving their child the one up similar to a mother bragging that her child is valedictorian or that they just got into Harvard. I feel like I am doing a disservice to him by explaining about his speech delay. It’s not fair to him. He is a wonderful boy, he doesn’t need a mother that should have to explain him or is embarrassed of him.

Every time a parent of a younger child brags about their child knowing the ABC’s, numbers, or shapes I just want to die inside.

Why does no one brag about how loving their child is? Or how kindhearted?  My son is such a loving kid with the best hugs. Why do we put so much importance on whether they can tell the difference between a quadrilateral and a triangle? Or if they can name every color in the rainbow? What about manners? What about honesty? What about how happy they are?

Let’s talk about the kid that just yesterday laughed in my son’s face and told him to “Speak English, would ya?” as his mother sat there and said nothing.

Or the gymnastics teacher that just raised her voice higher and higher on his first day of class to try to get my son to follow directions for the obstacle course rather than showing him how to do it as I sat watching with tears of anger in the back row of the stage. Or the librarian giving me dirty looks because my son is playing too loudly with the puppets because he doesn’t know what “indoor voices” mean. Thank goodness he doesn’t understand any of this. However, I do and it crushes my soul.

But you don’t see any of that. You see a playmate, a friend.

You are literally holding this momma’s heart in your tiny hands, you perfect little stranger, and you have no idea. I appreciate you so much in that moment and for every moment after. You made my son smile so big tonight that it’s going to be hard to replicate. I know I won’t always be there to protect him but it’s people like you in this world that will make this place so much better. After waving goodbye, we get in the car and I breathe a huge sigh of relief and I say a silent prayer. You remind me in that moment that language is not a barrier to friendship. Kindness and love can go further than you think. We need more people like you in the world. Thank you.

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Kelli Ciminero-Snowden is a proud boy mom to her two active toddlers; Cam (4) and Mack (3). She is originally from Northeastern Ohio from the land of cookie tables (Niles, OH near Youngstown). After graduating from Ohio University, she moved here with her husband Chris, a fellow Bobcat, whom she did not actually meet on the bricks of Athens but over 800 miles away on Spring Break in Panama City Beach, FL. She has now lived here for 10 years, but still can’t figure out how to get anywhere without her GPS. She has her graduate degree from OSU in speech-language pathology but works full-time in the family business of insurance. Although the family currently resides in Grove City, they are habitual movers (5 cities in 9 years) and enjoy too many parts of Columbus to completely grow their roots. She is a want-to-be photographer, a DIY queen, a master of Netflix binging, and is happiest when she is on the go. This self described foodie loves exploring the city, hiking at the local metro parks, and dancing to live music.


  1. I am floored by this post. It is raw, authentic and how much you care and love as a mother comes across so much, Thank you for sharing your soul with us. And I’m in your team; the team that knows that recitation or rote learning can come later. Teaching kindness, empathy and how to be a friend…..all hard EQ skills for some kids (and adults!) is high on my mama-list.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes remembering how I had all of these same feelings with my speech delayed son. He could not hear until his tubes at 2.5 and couldn’t speak at all until after he was 3. It was so incredibly hard, but it gets better.

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