Thursday, May 27th, 2010
Dyspraxia and a Dead Gopher
I apologize. I’m sorry, so sorry, but you’re going to read the grisly details of a gopher’s untimely departure if you want an update on my son’s speech impairment.
You see, a few months ago a pocket gopher discovered my back yard. His telltale mounds of dirt began popping up in the lawn.
First, I tried sonic spikes. Insert a couple ‘D’ batteries, bury the stake in the ground near the perimeter of your house and every few seconds the thing shrieks and vibrates. Milton is supposed to steer clear. Over time, you progressively move the stakes further from your house and drive Milton away.
Sorry, I asked my wife for a cute gopher name and she gave me Milton.
So, what did Milton do? He dug a tunnel straight to one of the spikes and kicked up dirt around it as if to mock me.
Next, I tried poison food you insert into the tunnel. He responded by kicking it out in his dirt piles.
Then I tried multi-pronged metal traps, the type you hope you don’t skewer your hand with when setting up.
The first time around I found the trap triggered with a clump of Milton’s hair in the prongs — but no blood. It seems I pissed him off… and made him all the wiser.
He then began responding to the traps by sealing his tunnels in front of them. One time he actually dragged a trap out of his tunnel without triggering it.
Finally, I got really desperate. I stuffed a water hose down his hole and tried to drown him out. No luck.
A week later I tried it again, but this time I brought a shovel and did exploratory digging to understand his tunnel network … while water gushed through it.
On some level it was kind of neat to see the underground river I was making, wondering if maybe it was bubbling up and making a pool in a neighbor’s lawn.
Then I lucked out. In one of the holes I’d opened up, I saw a wet whiskery face pop out a side tunnel that was heretofore hidden. Milton looked around as if to say, “Heavens to Betsy! What’s going on?”
That’s what my wife thinks a gopher named Milton would say.
Anyhow, I jumped toward him as he ducked back into the tunnel and I jammed the shovel into the ground about 10 inches from the opening, my best guess at where he’d be underground.
But, I’d lost him. He got away. Getting so close to my opponent fired me up and the day ended with my lawn looking like some kid had forgotten where he’d hidden his buried treasure.
In the ensuing weeks, the lawn got patched up. Unfortunately, my son and daughter had witnessed many of my antics and decided digging in the lawn was great fun.
I’ve been moderately successful in limiting their exploring to a single hole that is located over a now abandoned T intersection of Milton’s former glorious tunnel network.
Perhaps the kids’ tromping and digging in the yard scared Milton — gopher-made dirt piles stopped appearing. For a couple months I thought maybe I successfully drowned him underground or just driven him to a yard not tended by a lunatic human.
But then, two days ago a new dirt pile appeared. Yesterday a second, much larger pile appeared that I was certain was produced within the past hour.
I grabbed a shovel and went outside to investigate.
There was Milton! Every few seconds he carried dirt outside and returned to his hole.
Each time he appeared, I froze. Each time he disappeared, I moved a little bit, trying to position myself behind him, outside his field of vision. The wind was in my favor. He couldn’t smell me at any point.
Milton spied me a couple times, and gave me a good stare down. Then, I goofed, moving too far and too fast on his last trip into and out of the hole. He went down and didn’t come back. I stood there frozen for a minute to be sure. Then I grabbed the garden hose and filled his hole with water.
Normally, a gopher hole will accept all the water you can give it. This time, the hole filled and backed up, pouring onto the lawn after 30 seconds. I removed the hose and turned off the faucet.
To my surprise, Milton popped his head out in the middle of the pool.
My wife says I jumped back. She thought I’d been bitten.
Now, let me stop for a moment to give you an update on my 2-year-old son.
He has been diagnosed with verbal dyspraxia, otherwise known as developmental apraxia of speech. Basically, he has trouble forming sounds and words. He has to learn to talk in a deliberate manner.
Two months ago he had five words – Mama, Papa, moe (more), bubbas (bubbles) and ball.
Today, he also says tita (sister), car, go, boe (bowl), nola (granola), nay nay (horse sound) and car engine sounds.
I’ve not heard it yet, but my wife believes he says “I.”
He sees a speech language pathologist twice a week as well as a special education teacher from our school system once a week. We have a series of insanely expensive flash cards that are nonetheless very good.
The goal with his training is repetition to the point where he no longer has to think about how to make the sounds. It’s strange how the brain works. For example, he cannot do consonant-vowel-consonant words (cat), but can do consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel (papa).
His vocabulary is much broader if you count sounds and words he says when directly prompted. His speech pathologist incorporates play with verbal prompting and can elicit sounds that he simply never uses in daily life.
By prompting I don’t mean answering questions, but simply responding to requests to repeat a sound or word.
At home, for example, we tell him to say “Night night!” at nap and bedtime, and he will repeat “nigh nigh.” He doesn’t think to say it on his own yet, a condition that seems caused by his dyspraxia, not some greater mental impairment. Speech of any sort just doesn’t come naturally.
Anyhow, before the whole gopher incident exploded yesterday, I was volunteering at my daughter’s school when my wife called to tell me of our son’s latest effort. At naptime he repeated “la voo” for “love you.”
Gopher Adventure Continued
Now that we’ve had that sweet thought, let’s get back to the grisly gopher situation. Seriously, it’s time to stop reading.
You may recall, the gopher had just popped his head out of the water.
I grabbed the shovel.
At this point a childhood memory flashed into my mind, of my mother telling me about how, when her childhood cat would give birth to kittens, her dad would drown them in a bucket.
That’s a memory that seriously messes with your head, and perhaps why I’d forgotten it until this moment.
Let me say, I’m not a hunter. I’ve never killed anything bigger than a spider. I’ve had many hamsters and even a rat as a pet. To me, gophers are kind of cute. But, I was prepared to do this deed.
Milton’s head disappeared, then reappeared.
This time he didn’t reemerge.
The water was beginning to drain from the hole, so I dug in and pulled out a chunk of earth surrounding the hole.
There was Milton, on his side, still alive to some degree. I’ll save you further details except to say I put him out of his misery then and there.
At this point I should explain that my family had watched the entire event from the living room window, although Mom backed the kids away before the final blow and they really couldn’t see the gopher from their vantage point anyway. Our modern windows saved me from hearing what transpired inside.
My 5-year-old daughter asked Mom, “What if the gopher had a family?”
Then she told Mom, recalling a previous conversation, “Papa said we can bury the gopher and dig him up in two years and assemble his skeleton!”
My 2-year-old dyspraxic son, on the other hand, didn’t understand what I was doing waving that shovel around. I was taking an action I did not savor and which would bother me hours later. However, as I rained blows down upon Milton’s head, my son merely saw Papa acting funny-crazy in the backyard. I couldn’t help but smile when my wife told me my son had been yelling, “”Go! Go! Go! Go!” with all the excitement in the world.