It was early on when a small seed of worry, planted itself inside me and grew like a weed. As a mom, you just know. And I always knew that something about my son was different.
From the moment he was born, my husband and I were obsessed with him. Amazed by everything he did, he filled us with the most delicious kinds of joy. But while family and friends watched him grow and develop, I watched him grow and miss milestones. Grey area milestones. Ones you might miss if you weren’t really looking. One milestone in particular refused to come.
At 18 months he had no words. Not a single one. 24 months crept around and still, silence. Our happy, ball of energy consumed our whole world in the best kind of way but we had not yet heard his voice. The gift of motherhood had been bestowed upon me, and I had not heard the word “mama” once from my own child.
No one prepares you for a speech delay. No one warns you about the dark road towards a diagnosis. You just take that baby home from the hospital and assume the very best.
To the mom who just began her speech journey, there is no roadmap for you. But I must share the advice I’ve now filtered through. It is a fulfilled promise to the moms who started before me and helped me find some footing on this unexpected road.
Get Your Panties in a Wad
People will tell you to stop googling. Your husband will catch on to you hiding in the bathroom to finish up one more article. I’d love to tell you not to become obsessive but my obsessive persistence ended up getting us answers. While everyone else was “not worrying”, I was three steps ahead. Some moms can get their panties in a wad over a speech delay and then pick it out when progress starts to happen. When that progress didn’t happen for us, I already knew what the next steps involved. Experts, specialists, and pediatricians brushed my concerns aside but that feeling I just never shook. Invite that crazy person inside of you to come on out. This is motherhood, crazy is part of our territory. Listen to the whisper that is telling you to keep digging. And dig your panty-wadded butt off.
Compare Your Child
Yes. And I don’t mean take away from “they all develop in their own special butterfly way”. Of course they are all different. Thank you Jesus. I’m talking about large discrepancies. Things that make you feel that, wait what?! thing.
Get the Evaluation
It is gut wrenching to sit by and watch a professional analyze your child’s every weakness. But a skilled evaluator will also be able to identify strengths just as easily. You may want to vomit at the thought of exposing each weakness to a stranger’s analysis, but the evaluation is the first step to piecing the puzzle together. This is the key that gets you through the right doors. In my experience getting an evaluation from a private clinic was best. This is a place that will take time with you over the phone and schedule you quickly. You should feel a warmth from them and a knowing, that they will take care of your child.
Therapy Should Feel Right
When you’re putting your baby’s crib together, you don’t fantasize about what their speech therapist might look like one day. They just aren’t part of the plan. You just don’t envision giving up precious minutes with your child and handing them over to a therapist. For a control freak like me, this was a hard pill to swallow. Then I realized that these people are not therapists, they are miracle workers. Angels on earth who will become the best compliment to your child’s life. Funny, it also turns out that they really do know more than you. And to put it simply, they.will.help.your.child. Growth begins to happen. And when it doesn’t, these are the people who help you figure out why. Refuse to waste your child’s time with mediocre therapy. Your child’s therapist should be a dream match. It should feel right. If you don’t feel that, ask yourself why and change it. Childhood is a vapor, don’t give your child’s time to someone who isn’t worth theirs.
Every state works differently. However EVERY STATE offers a program that gives children FREE therapy between the ages of 0-3. And if your child is older than 3, similar programs exist for them too. I am fortunate to live in a state that has an incredible program for kids called TEFRA. Become a master in the art of paper work and your child will never miss out on services due to cost.
Celebrate Where They Are
The inability to speak, or speak clearly, can be devastating for families. But once a speech problem is identified you get to move forward. Every single fiber of growth can be celebrated. In our house we refuse to be ashamed that our successes are things children younger than ours have been doing for months, sometimes even years. If it’s a new sound, new word, clearer word, new skill, we are screaming victory. Every person we know is getting that video, picture, and update. Our children shouldn’t just see and hear our pride, they should feel it. Constantly.
Run with the Strengths
With weakness often comes fascinating strengths. Find that thing they do so well and marathon it. Every moment doesn’t have to revolve around what they can’t do. Life is too big for that.
Be the Boss
Because you are. If you live on my side of crazy this may come naturally for you. Even if this isn’t the exact path you expected, you’re here now so you should go ahead make some rules. Here are a few of mine:
- When I don’t understand something, I don’t get up from the table.
- Doctors, therapists, coordinators can’t push me through a signature page or vague explanation. Things need to explained in detail and I wont be rushed.
- The paperwork must be filled out correctly.
- Not just anyone gets to work with my child.
- Those who do work with my child must be honest with me. Give me the good, the bad, the ugly. He said a new word? Awesome! He’s picking his butt? Want to know about it.
- Therapists get gifts. (see above point on butt picking)
- We are committed to the work but we are also committed to childhood. Our life can’t be therapy 24 hours a day all week long. There will be parks, beaches, movies, screen time, vacations, etc.
Guard what has been entrusted to you
This road may not be the one you planned for. It has more paper work, more people who wear scrubs and more tissue boxes. But it’s been entrusted to you. Designed for you. At first, it can feel so dark. To that mom who just took her first few steps, I want you to know that I am on the same road, just a bit ahead of you. And girl, I am standing in the light. I can’t wait for you to get here. Keep fighting and keep running. Keep pushing and get to this spot on the road where I am standing. There is so much joy here. Celebrations you can’t even imagine. Once you’ve been here for awhile, you’ll find the answer to that question you keep asking. Why? Because you’re strong enough. Because your child is strong enough. This wasn’t given to the weak, it was entrusted to the strong.