Screaming Frustration: Our 2-year-old Won’t Talk

I say won’t instead of can’t because he could and now he doesn’t. Last fall, Babyboy had a little reliable vocabulary– Done, Hot, Down, Melon. (Yes, Melon. Cantaloupe is his favorite food.)

Then, Babygirl was born. The words dried up, and we’re still waiting for them to come back.

So we get alot of grunting, pointing and screaming when Babyboy wants something, or when he’s unhappy about something.  When I coax him to say something, especially a word he once said, he shakes his head NO, or puts his hands over his ears.

He is otherwise pretty normal. He makes eye contact, sometimes getting endearingly in our faces and touching noses, giggling. He certainly understands everything. If you say “ice cream” out loud anywhere within a 50yard radius of his little ears, he will come running. He fetches, he throws things in the trash, he follows three-step commands.

But he won’t say a word. Our pediatrician recently urged us to contact Early Intervention and set up an assessment. They came, they saw, and then they took 3 weeks to call us back. They’re coming this week to deliver their assessment, which we assume will include Speech Therapy…

Meantime we endure grunting, pointing and screaming for every communication. This can sometimes be difficult, especially in public. We don’t take our kids to too many places, for this reason, mainly. He has screamed in stores, especially if I walk too far away from him, and he gets scared. He screamed some on the trip to Central America, in the airport, and on the plane. People look at us funny when that happens, like we’re abusing him or something. It’s stressful.

Yesterday we took Babyboy to a seaside park. It was a gorgeous sunny day; there was a vast expanse of rolling fields and a large playground next to a sandy beach; there were families and kids out by the dozens. There was certainly no need for any child to use an indoor voice, and no need for any parent to restrain their child from shouting at the top of their lungs.

Yet we had a run-in with the self-appointed noise police. When Hubby walked away from us to go use the restroom, Babyboy let out a long, urgent, scared squeal. You could almost hear what he was saying: “WHERE”S DADDY GOING? I’M SURROUNDED BY STRANGE KIDS AND ADULTS AND DADDY IS LEAVING ME?” An older woman came up to us with her arms crossed. She directed her scolding at Babyboy: “Use your words, honey, use your words!”

He howled again, even louder, and rushed to me.

“Use your words, so Mommy knows what you want!” She said again, looking at me this time, her look concerned, annoyed, and pitying; a look that was really saying, Shut your kid up.

I considered my options: I could say what I wanted to say, which is largely unprintable; I could explain that I knew exactly what he wanted, that he was sad that his daddy walked away and he couldn’t talk to tell us that; Or I could simply gather up our things and relocate, which I did. Fuming.

I wasn’t that perturbed about Noise Police Lady because I didn’t know her. But today was a different matter.

We ventured to church. Now, we are spiritual folks, and we love our wacky left-wing liberal Christian Church. I found this friendly little Episcopal franchise when I was pregnant with Babyboy. It was small; it was ethnically diverse; it was all-inclusive of ages, sexual preferences, and politics. But most importantly, there were children, many children, and they  were welcomed and celebrated: squeals, giggles, tantrums, and all.  There was also a large playroom in the basement, and Godly Play for kids (Like Sunday School) during the year, during Mass. I loved it, and I dragged my more-traditionally-raised Hubby there. Now, we are happily entrenched and ensconced in the wonderfully mixed-up mix of the congregation.

Now, as accepting of kids as 99% of the congregation is, there is one older woman who has scolded Babyboy for his noise during service. Last month, she said something to my husband about “Why don’t you duct-tape his mouth shut?” Now, when he shared that with me, he chuckled and described it as a harmless comment offered in humor by this basically Senile old lady. I was a bit shocked, and glad she didn’t say it to me, because my response would have been… largely unprintable.

We missed about a month of Mass, due to illness, travel, and on-call. Today we ventured back.  I kept Babyboy in the basement playroom for much of Mass. She is, after all, a member of the congregation, and I didn’t want to offend her again. I really didn’t feel like enduring her criticism. After Mass was over, we have an informal pot-luck Coffee Hour, which is a great time to  get to know the congregation. We’ve had many great conversations there, and I’ve made some good friends. Generally, kids run wild during that time, playing with the toys in the playroom, or running outside in the church yard.

So I was totally taken aback when Babyboy’s yell of joy, at discovering a new truck on the playroom, was met with a round of scolding by the Senile Old Lady: “Shut Up! Stop Screaming!” She stood and yelled at him, her hands on her hips.

Several members of the congregation immediately stepped in. “He’s just a baby, for goodness’ sake! Relax!” “Be polite!”

She countered: “It’s the same thing every time they’re here. I’m sick of it.”

I considered our options: I could say what I wanted to say, which is largely unprintable; I could explain that he was overjoyed to see the truck and he couldn’t talk to tell us that; Or I could simply gather up our things and leave, which I did. I did that because I was crying. Sobbing, actually. Hubby took us home.

All the pent-up frustration about not taking him places because he screams; his not talking yet and our fears about that; the scolding from the Noise Police Lady the day prior; and being exhausted because Babygirl is up once and twice a night still at 7 months; it all came out and I just cried for a few hours.

But I feel much better now. Our Deacon called us later on to say he was so sorry this happened; that there had been a big discussion about the incident; everyone was supportive of us, and certainly we should not ever feel like we can’t bring Babyboy to Mass.  Our pastor wrote us a long email that we are 100% supported by the whole congregation, that the overwhelming majority love having kids around, and we should always feel welcomed, and that we can always bring Babyboy there, and he can make all the noise he wants. And I know that the other parents feel the same way.

The Early Intervention folks will be coming this week, and we know, really know, that Babyboy is fine. My own brother was a very late talker, and he turned out okay-  he’s a practicing physician.  We know that all toddlers have screaming fits and temper tantrums, even if they can talk. We know this will pass.

We’re just, well…. worried, protective, proud, frustrated and full of love for our Babyboy, all of it in one big emotion.

No words.

35 thoughts on “Screaming Frustration: Our 2-year-old Won’t Talk”

  • Oh, I feel for you! I have the same kind of reaction to those situations. They still happen. My 8-year old just learned how to ride his bike, which is “late” around here (though I seem to remember it being normal, when I was a kid), and he ran over someone’s toes by mistake. He (and I) got the same kind of mean, scolding treatment, and I felt all those things — protective, defensive, offended, etc. And my response was a very ungraceful combo of almost-crying and almost-unprintable, then leaving in a rush. Which was not very good modeling around my 8-year old. Whoops.

    It happens less and less as they get older, though, thank goodness. I think 2-3 years is the peak. The consensus among my friends is that if you get the hard stuff at 2, it’s easier at 3, and vice versa. Screaming, biting, hitting random innocent bystanders — enough 2-year olds don’t do it that some people feel self-righteous and consdescending when yours does, but it’s common and all well within the range of normal. My second one bit. Mostly his brother, occasionally me, a couple times grandpa (shocking! I never would have antagonized my dad when I was a kid, it would have been too scary), and he threatened other kids on the playground once in a while. If he had been just a little more inclined to do it, I would have felt like I had to stay out of public places for that 6 months. And of course I was trying everything I could to get him to stop! Free advice or scolding was the last thing I needed.

    It sounds like your instinct is that he is fine. Since you are the ones who live with him, and you are sensitive, with-it people, I am confident you are right. You may well get referred to speech therapy — I am under the impression that some hefty proportion of my moms’ group has kids in speech therapy, since people are constantly asking for recommendations. It seems like there are a lot of caring, pleasant providers around, and I’m guessing it’s the same in your area, so if you do it, it’s at least unlikely to be a bad experience.

    I’ll be thinking of you :).

    • THANKS It is always reassuring and validating to hear of others’ similar experiences, and we appreciate it. I think a big problem for us is we just don’t spend any casual time with other parents of young children. Our friends are long-distance or just very busy… We don’t often enough get chance to see what is normal. So, it’s good to hear what normal is… Thanks!

      • I have a sister (3 yr old currently) and she does that too. When she watches TV she screams or grunt randomly, I don’t even know why she’s doing that, maybe it’s because of the characters in the video or something (?) When she screams, I tell her to stop and she screams or cry. :^( It’s really annoying to me but I understand that I shouldn’t be angry; it’s not her fault.

        So I’m telling you that you’re not the only one experiencing this. lol I just wanted to reply, often I don’t do this but yeah I jsut want to comment and share this to make you guys feel better :3

  • Wow. Seems like the old ladies were having temper tantrums worse than Baby Boy’s. ” worried, protective, proud, frustrated and full of love”—that’s it exactly, and I don’t think it every goes away. as much as I like sleeping through the night, the baby months are so much SIMPLER.

      • My three year old daughter same situation as well and what worries me most is the fact that she doesn’t talk at all.

        Her brothers used to be screamers as well but they could talk. I really don’t know what to do, she has never been in school because I was scared of covid and doesn’t want to play with other kids. I think I must take her for assessment, I’m really worried. Any advices welcome

      • Yes. Please take her for a developmental pediatrics assessment, ask your pediatrician. It could be many different issues, but definitely ask the experts.

  • Grandson, now 3, went through the same thing. After a year of early intervention he is almost at normal for his age level. Will your little boy sign at all?

    • I had the same thought, about using some sign language. My kids were combining signs and spoken words at that age, and it sure smoothed out the communication. At that age, if they’re interested in signing, they’ll pick up the signs quickly — if you show it in context maybe 20-30 times, they’ll start using it. If you have some parent-friends in the neighborhood, you can ask around for someone to show you. Or Youtube, actually! You don’t have to be fussy about it — they can be real signs, or “baby sign,” or just something you made up. It just has to be consistent. If he likes the idea, he’ll learn the ones he thinks are useful. (At that age, I remember favorites being “more,” “all done,” “different,” “park” and “library.” And “melon,” too, actually, just like your little guy!)

  • I did not know where to email you at so I decided to place this here. I have been keeping up with your blog and love it. I ran upon this article about selective mutism and a cat that helped a young boy communicate better. This is the link to the story of the cat winning an award for the U.K. National Cat of the Year. I hope it will let you know that there is hope out there.

    • THANKS that is very cute! We have two cats, one who is particularly fond of Babyboy, despite the fact that Babyboy will occ wrestle-tackle him… they’re buddies.

    • Apologies for the delay in responding to you. Actuaklly, Our son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 2.5 and after alot of intervention/ speech therapy, is now talking and doing well. It’s an ongoing challenge, though.

      • Hi there, this sounds like my 2.5 year old. He’s just now getting around to communicating more, primarily through gestures, but he will also say “more” and “ba” (for banana).

        Socially, he makes lots of eye contact and plays well with his baby sister. However, he screams a lot if strangers speak to him or if we’re doing something he doesn’t like, for example, trying to kiss his cheek when he doesn’t feel like being kissed.

        He likes playing with other kids sometimes, but usually in a play date he kinda does his own thing and laughs at the other kids who run near him. He’s currently in speech therapy, and we do a ton at home to help him develop his communication. We have not had him evaluated for autism and will not do that before he turns three. I don’t feel like it’s fair to him because where I live, half of the evaluation has to be done outside of the home in a setting with other children. He’s not often around other children, so I don’t think he will be comfortable in a random place with others while strangers watch him.

        What made you go ahead and get your son checked for autism? Our son has some red flags, but I feel strongly that children are over-diagnosed now instead of allowed to be children and develop at their own pace. I completely acknowledge his speech delay, and we’ve been working hard to help him in that area, but I don’t feel a need to have him examined further right now.

        Sorry for the long post, but what was it that ultimately made your have your son checked for autism? What were your biggest reasons for concern other than the screaming?

        Thank you,

      • Hi Jasmine, well, we didn’t have him checked for autism, actually. He was obviously not like most other kids; he had speech and social development delays. So we brought him to Boston Children’s Hospital Developmental Medicine for a general evaluation. We were really hoping it wasn’t autism, based on our idea of what that meant at the time.

  • I feel like you put my feelings into this perfect! My son is 2, nonverbal, and hates when strangers try to engage him! He has a sensory processing disorder, and going out is always a risk of turning very negative! My husband and I understand him, he is funny and loving to us and loves to play and try new things, but just doesn’t connect with strangers. We hear ignorant people’s advice about how to “make him better” every time we leave the house! We are in the trenches with you. Hoping things keep looking up, don’t let the negative rude people get you down! You are a WONDERFUL mother!

    • Thanks for your comment! This was a very old post- Our son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 2.5 and has been in special ed since, first through early intervention, and then through the public school system. He’s doing very well and is now talking. We’re working on the social skills part…

  • I have a grandson who is probably headed for the same diagnosis. He communicates by screams and barks yet he seems intelligent but something is delayed. As close as I can figure his body is two but his mind is one.
    Reading about the lady at your church, whoever called her senile old lady may be close to the truth. If she didn’t do these kind of things before then you could be seeing some of the opening slavos in a disease in older people called Frontal Temporal Dementia. Behavior such as outbursts, grabbing food off the plates of others, and even propositioning their grandchildren are part and parcel of the disease.

    • Oh goodness, thanks Mary and apologies for the delay in replying! Yes, actually, we now know that the lady from church was likely displaying early signs, which have now progressed… Very astute observation on your part.

      • My son use to talk now he screams and doesnt use the words he once used. Momma became ma. Ball became be ect. He is 2 in half. Im crying as i type this. Im scared i need HELP.

      • Just seeing this, apologies for delay. Please talk to your pediatrician, your son may benefit from speech therapy and early intervention. It’s going to be ok.

  • Wow this is my son all the way…I’m so torn on what to do. He just turned 2 July 3rd ..I want to wait til about 2.5 to start trying speech therapist but I just don’t want my son to be misdiagnosed because I didn’t give him enough time..Its like he’s two but mind is yes old..he constantly does the same stuff over and over that gets him in trouble..he cries and if we spank Jim or tell him to stop hecwant he just gets louder..idk..I pray something happens next few month’s

    • The general advice would be to first, call your state’s Early Intervention program and get started now with any recommended speech therapyu, ASAP, and then also begin the process of a formal developmental pediatrics evaluation. This can take months and months so start now. If you live near a major children’s medical center go there. My advice- do not go through your school system. Go with a specialist developmental pediatrician. Maybe ask your pediatrician if they have a recommendation. The earlier the better. That’s my two cents having lived this.

    • Hi there,
      Just wondering how your son has progressed over the last 6 months? I have a nephew in a similar situation.

      • Hi, the original post was from five years ago. He’s been diagnosed with autism and has had years of speech, occupational and behavioral therapy. He’s doing great in a co- taught special ed first grade (half normal peers, half special needs kids). He’s talking fairly normally though with a bit of an odd inflection and syntax; still, we’re very happy overall.

  • Reading this made me cry. It’s almost as if I was telling this about my own two year old. He just turned two, and knows a small handful of words, but only uses grunts and screams to communicate what he wants. It’s so frustrating! We rarely take him anywhere because of this and if we do take him out, we are always approached by people thinking they can help, but in the end it’s just their way of trying to shut him up. (Noise Police) We also keep him in the back school area at Church because of how loud he is.

    I have an almost 4 month old boy who wakes several times a night and an 8 year old boy who feels a bit neglected lately and so I’m tired and at my breaking point.

    I hope everything worked out for your little one (since this article is a few months old) and I appreciate you posting your story because it gives me a glimmer of hope that someday he will stop screaming and start talking. Take care.

    • Thanks! Yes, this was written about four years ago. Babyboy is doing wonderfully in a special ed first grade. We’ve had guidance and assistance from developmental pediatrics, speech and behavior therapy, child psych, PT and OT. It all started with an honest visit to our pediatrician. I’d suggest meeting with your pediatrician to discuss your concerns, and ask for a referral to a developmental specialist to assist with a diagnosis and treatments.

  • I just want to say thank you for sharing your experience. Your story sounds a lot like my soon to be 2-year-old son. Because of concerns from his dad questioning why he isn’t talking much at 16 months opened my eyes to the possibility of some sort of delay. It was at his 18-month check when I brought our issues to his pediatrician who gave us the number to Early Intervention. They have since evaluated my son and determined that he has a social, and communication delay. After reading more of your blog, I am making appointments and having him seen my a Developmental Disorder Team. The ending to of your blog after Babyboy’s diagnosis, helped me take a deep breath and say that he too will be alright. Thank you very much

  • Hi, I remember this event, as I was there. I was sorry about it at the time. I am even sorrier reading about it in the context you give here. I just want to say that I admire your courage and generosity in blogging honestly about your challenges, and your kindness in meeting the world. I see in comments here and for other posts just how much your blog means to others! It is so overwhelming and isolating to have a child like this – I had one as well, but way before there was an internet, and before there were easy determinations or interventions for autism spectrum! I can see in the comments of others how much it comforts just to know that there are others going through similar struggles, and I know it would have meant a lot to me at that stage. Thank you for your blogging! Betsy

  • My now 2 year old son recently received an autism diagnosis. We’re moving forward with ABA therapy (started last week actually) and are scared out of our minds. Having started early intervention at Rand 18 months he frequents the signs “more” and “give me” ( kind of cute when he does them); however when his speech hadn’t progressed; it was recommended that he was evaluated.
    I’m so happy to hear that your son is now talking as it gives me hope. We currently hang on to any sound from my sons vocal box, since he says so little. I’m hoping ABA pushes the progression of his speech; i worry 24/7.

    • Hi Tracy, that’s great that he’s signing! You’re clearly doing everything right, he’s getting behavioral therapy and is being closely monitored. He’s going to be ok, so are you. Our son is 8 now and happy and developing musical and mechanical skills that neither I nor my husband can comprehend! He’s way ahead of us. Your son will develop his own personality and skill set as well. It’s going to be ok.

  • This is my Babyboy and he just turned 2 and have a baby brother. I’m wondering how did Babyboy turned out since this post is from 8 years ago.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.