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Dear Dr Olson,

My son is three and a half years old and only started to talk just before he turned three. Although since then he has progressed a lot, especially since starting nursery four months ago, he still is way behind his peers when it comes to speaking. He can say what he wants and make observations, but only in the most basic way (I juice, look, a spider!)and has a repertoire of a few sentences, but no more ("a car is coming: stay on the pavement! "mummy's coming back soon"). He has recently started to immediately repeat what he hears, which increases his vocabulary daily, so every day he says something more. He can count to ten and read numbers and letters, which he likes to do a lot (reading number plates off cars for example), his memory is amazing and especially his sense of direction was always incredible since he started to walk. He knew colours before he could tell them and he also knows all geometrical shapes. He loves books too, especially rhyming ones and knows them by heart, sometimes "reading" them by himself, reciting the words he knows and saying "nananana" for the rest but with the correct rhythm and turning the pages at the right point. He is very sociable and gregarious, with a keen sense of humour, says hello and goodbye, yet he won't answer when asked "what's your name?" or "how are you?" although his understanding was always good. He is also bilingual, as I am Italian and spoke only Italian to him until he was two, then switched to English thinking (probably wrongly) that it would make things easier for him, as he was not saying anything by then. He does understand Italian, though, at least simple instructions like "go upstairs", "give me your hand" etc. He is on the waiting list for speech therapy, but I know from other people's experience that here in the UK it takes up to a year to have the first session, so I am not holding my breath. Socially he seems a bit immature compared to kids his age: he likes to show affection phisically by hugging or touching other kids hair and doesn't understand that some kids may not like it, although he's improved since starting nursery. My fear is that he may have some learning disability, but how can I tell and what can I do about it? Thank you for your reply, Giovanna

Answer
Hi, Giovanna,

I find that bilingual kids are sometimes slower in one language than kids who are monolingual, but if you add up all the words in both languages, they are fine.  He sounds to me like a normal, sweet, healthy kid and from my perspective, I don't think he has a learning disorder.  

Good luck, D.r olson

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David Olson, MD

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I would be happy to attempt to answer any questions about general pediatric topics, either medical issues or behavioral issues. This would include all the various questions one receives in a busy pediatric practice. I`m a board certified pediatrician in northern Michigan and have been in practice for over 15 years. I enjoy the teaching role I have in our practice and would enjoy the opportunity to help others with their pediatric problems.

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