Baby Talk

There’s something called Dunstan Baby Language that seems quite popular at the moment. It’s the idea that all babies have five ‘words’ that they use to communicate from birth, irrespective of culture. These are:

  1. ‘Neh’ – I’m hungry (listen for the ‘n’ sound);
  2. ‘Owh’ – I’m sleepy (watch for the wide open mouth);
  3. ‘Heh’ – I’m in discomfort (listen for the ‘h’ sound);
  4. ‘Eairh’ – I have lower-abdominal gas pains (a long, drawn-out sound);
  5. ‘Eh’ – I have an upper-abdominal air bubble I’m trying to shift (short or staccato, like ‘Eh-eh-eh-eh’).

I think, to a certain extent, these are fairly accurate. Izzie does make an ‘n’ sound in her screams when she’s really hungry, while her favourite cry is ‘eairh’, and I know for a fact she’s very gassy – she’s farted nineteen times already today, not that I’m counting, and not dainty little lady farts either but truck-driver tear-a-hole-in-the-seat-of-your-pants style guffs. The rest of the sounds are rather tough to distinguish from each other, and when Izzie goes, ‘Eairh-owh-neh-heh-eh,’ it muddies the water somewhat.

What is really good about this system is that it stresses the main problems with babies: they need feeding, changing, burping, cuddling or you just have to endure their pain. If only Izzie would stick to five sounds and these five alone, we might be getting somewhere. Instead, she’s confusing the hell out of me.

You see, at root, Asperger’s Syndrome is considered a developmental disorder affecting communication and social understanding. We struggle to comprehend the nuances of everyday verbal and non-verbal language, find it difficult to form and maintain relationships, and fail to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of others. So far, these aspects of my condition have had very little impact on my parenting ability, but they are beginning to make themselves felt.

Up until about a week ago, Izzie was a socially simple baby. That is, her wants and needs were easy to understand and fulfil. She was either asleep, staring blankly at a lightbulb or window, or screwing up her face as she experimented with her muscles – no action needed – or else she was crying, so needed feeding, changing, winding or cuddling. It didn’t require a great deal of imagination or interpretation.

But all that has now changed. I was looking forward to when Izzie started smiling, and it’s undeniably cute, but I had no idea that alongside the grins would come a range of facial expressions and vocalisations communicating the whole gamut of human emotions, entirely in the non-verbal sphere. And that’s what I’m battling with right now.

When Izzie’s sad, her little bottom lip folds back and tears come into her eyes as she lets out a heart-rending whimper; when she’s tired, she yawns; and when she’s hungry, she sucks her fingers. In addition, when I chirrup like a bird or make funny faces at her, she frowns as though bewildered, and when I lean in close to her, her eyes go wide as if alarmed. And that’s the limit of what I can decipher.

Alongside these expressions, she sticks out her tongue, rolls her eyes, chews on her fists, kicks her legs, swings her arms, wiggles her fingers, grips onto things, claws her face, rubs her eyes, thrashes her head from side to side, grabs her nose, kicks off her blankets and booties and trousers, slaps her cheeks, purses her lips, goes rigid like a plank or scrunches tight into a ball, lifts her arms above her head (don’t shoot me!) or reaches one up with the other at her waist (Superman!), and that’s just scratching the surface. None of these gestures seem consistent or communicate very much – sometimes the tongue out means she’s hungry, sometimes not; pursing her lips means she’s peeing except when she isn’t; and she rubs her eyes when she’s tired or else about to spend the next eight hours awake. So I watch her and feel helplessly confused.

The babbling is even worse. Whenever Izzie’s now awake, she’s constantly talking, cooing, muttering, coughing, squeaking, grunting, spitting and spluttering. It makes me surprisingly anxious. What on earth is she saying? What does she want?

Every time she ‘says’ something I leap up to see what she’s asking for, what I as a dad need to do. I feel like I’m letting her down because I don’t speak baby and can’t figure out what she’s blathering on about. Sometimes I find myself hoping she’ll cry, because I can deal with that – it means something’s wrong and I can fix it. But I can’t fix something when I don’t know it’s broken.

Apparently, I am told, most of the time Izzie doesn’t want anything. I should just let her talk. Or talk back to her. But what about? I explained how laser printers worked yesterday, the tripartite division of government the day before, which I’m not sure she got because she had a good chuckle midway through. And at least when I talk to the dog, he pays attention – Izzie couldn’t seem to care less if I was there or not. And none of it sounds like neh, owh, heh, eairh or eh!

Nobody prepared me for this phase. Roll on when she can use actual words. That’s only a couple of weeks away, right? Right?


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