Saturday, March 23, 2013

The art of language acquisition

It is no secret we’ve been going through a difficult spell with Sam for the last few weeks that is particularly perplexing. His behavior overall is fine, even wonderful – except for the 5 to 15 minutes each day when he performs a fairly accurate Incredible Hulk imitation. 

Because we are working to get Sam back to his more peaceful self, each night when Tony gets home he asks hopefully how the day went. Thursday night, unaware Sam was within earshot I responded matter-of-factly, “Oh the usual. Sam got off the bus, slugged Josh and then he was fine.”  

Within a second I heard Sam say, "Slurgged Josh. Slurg Daddy.” Against my better judgment I corrected, “The word is ‘slug or slugged’. Sam accepted the correction happily. “Slug Daddy!” He proclaimed.

Great. A quarter of a million words in the English language and he picks a piece of slag to learn instantaneously. “No you don’t ‘slug’ Daddy. You don't 'slug' anyone or you are in big trouble.” I said. "Big trouble," echoed Sam.

Sam has not acquired language easily. Ever. For that reason, communication is a big focus. We use any moment as a teachable moment since Sam rarely learns a word easily or enthusiastically.

Somehow Sam found this particular word very easy to learn. "Slug! Slug Daddy! Slug!" I heard Sam say with gusto. The positive side of me was trying to find a small measure of comfort in the fact he had learned a new word.

I don’t think I have to explain the other side of me was thinking.

A little wearily I said to Sam, “Sam, you don’t ‘slug’ people. ‘Slugging’ is bad. Got it?” “Slugging is bad.” He echoed. “Use your words and say you need help.” I said. “Use your Sam words.” He confirmed. Slugging is bad.” I hoped we were done with it. But is is never that simple, is it.

This morning over breakfast I asked Sam how school was on Friday. Without missing a beat he announced with perfect clarity, "Slug Missy. Missy is nice. So sorry Missy." "Did you 'slug' Missy?! I asked. "No!" he denied. "Promise me you won't 'slug' Missy or anyone." "No slug Missy!" Sam affirmed. "Do you think we can talk about something nice now?" I asked. 

Sam ran off echoing "Something nice. Something nice." Then I heard gleeful laughter as he ran up the stairs saying, “Slug! Slug! Slug! Mommy says no slug. Mommy says NO slug.”

Ugh. Well, at least he got the last part right. 

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  1. I vote we change it to "slurg." It's so much more sinister.

    1. Well, you are more highly credentialed in the world of language...