At first we didn’t think much about it. We had always made a very deliberate effort to try not to compare our twins to each other, whether it was their interests, personalities, or developmental milestones. My son had always been a very easy, contented infant, which we welcomed and embraced, particularly beside his colicky, and temperamental sister.
One of our babysitters was the first person to approach the topic of speech delays with us. She had worked with a number of children in the same capacity and saw some signs that there might be a delay. We filed away her comment and began to take note of what he was and wasn’t doing, just in case.
Many parents of multiples, or any child who is born prematurely, understand that it takes time for any child who is born early or small to catch up with their peers. Generally, most children who are born prematurely will have caught up with other children their age before their second birthday, although some can take longer, most commonly those who are born more than two months early.
After an Early Childhood Education leader at the twins’ daycare expressed the same type of concerns, I began to complete a little bit of research and discovered that my son had nowhere near the 100-150 words he should have at age two. We voiced our worries to our family healthcare practitioner, partnered with our daycare, and began a two year journey into the world of speech and language development.
In our two years working with our son to help get him kindergarten ready we learned so much, about him, ourselves, and different ways of learning.
Here are the cheat sheets of everything we discovered about speech therapy, language and social development, alongside my son, who now, thankfully, has many, many, words.
12 You’re going to be told things you don’t want to hear
No parent wants to hear that their kid isn’t meeting standard milestones, even when they’ve been suspecting the same themselves. There are going to be difficult conversations and topics broached, particularly by teachers, daycare providers, doctors, speech therapists, and other consultants. There have been so many meetings.
First meetings were with an assessor or teacher where both my husband and I have felt this uneasy tension between us and the person who’s about to provide some sort of assessment on our child. We quickly realized that this tension is caused by negative reactions the assessor has received in the past, essentially they are gearing themselves up for a fight with upset caregivers, and for a lot of emotions.
11 You need to keep an open mind
The tension in these meetings evaporates almost instantly once we acknowledge that we are aware of certain challenges our son is, or has been facing, and show that we want to work with whomever, however to make his life better. When everyone involved has an open mind, and puts their energy towards coping skills, and solutions, and recognizes that they’re all on the same team, things get a lot easier. Sometimes, believe it or not, it can even be fun.
It’s easy to feel like you, your child, and the way that you parent is being attacked. Remember, all of the feedback and critique that you are receiving is not always about you. Don’t take it personally, and listen before you react. Sometimes this means taking some time to process, take notes and have a follow-up phone call, email, or meeting where you can ask questions or provide additional commentary that you may have forgotten about in the heat of the moment.
10 There will be a lot of appointments
In the beginning particularly there will be a lot of appointments. Most of these appointments will be to rule things out. Medical hearing examinations are completed to ensure that hearing loss is not impacting your child’s ability to communicate. Even a mild case of hearing loss, particularly in the first three years of their life, can greatly impact their ability to speak. Hearing loss is a very common birth defect and can impact one to three out of every thousand children.
Each appointment may also lead you towards more appointments. There will be many referrals to specialists, and times where you’ll have to return to a doctor (or three) to get documentation to apply for insurance coverage or get access to paperwork that will help other people complete their assessments.
Once you create a series of work plans or goals for therapy with your child there will be other meetings, often mid-way through the program and at the end in order to discuss progress, challenges, and realign the work plan to get it and keep it on the right track.
9 You will become an expert at note keeping
Sometimes you will feel like a human checklist machine, examining what your child is doing and not doing compared to other children their age, and how they interact with others. Do they converse well with adults and other children, do they make eye contact? What are your child’s patterns?
Our son has always had a brief one to three week transgression, and sudden outburst of difficult behaviour before a surge of development, which is normal, for him. Take notes but also remember to take the time to enjoy your child for what and who they are so you don’t miss out on valuable together time while you’re waiting for next steps, next milestones.
8 This isn’t a race
I am a firm believer that all of our lives are over-scheduled nowadays, so not all of your time and focus should be on your child meeting developmental milestones. You know how adults feel pressure to perform in meetings, at work etc. and how it stresses them out? Kids can feel the exact same way and this feeling can prevent growth.
7 Being “Normal” isn’t a thing
The world would be a very boring place if we were all the same. Averages are just that, averages. Sometimes life throws us curve balls. We have spent a lot more time working with our son on his learning than we’ve had to with our daughter, but that could change at any time. Every child, teenager, and adult has challenges they have to overcome. My son has already learned so many lessons on persistence and has taken the Yo Gabba Gabba song Keep Trying to heart, “”Keep trying. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Never give up. Never give up! You’ll get it right!”
6 ‘A’ Is often for Autism
One thing that has been consistent with every single assessment or appointment we’ve gone to is the emphasis on autism diagnosis: the first thing that will be talked about is red flags towards the autism spectrum and whether or not they are suspected for your child. If we had $20 for every time we heard, “There were no red flags towards autism, but…” we would have a lot more money for speech therapy. Remember, diagnosis can change and evolve over time, as your child grows older and people have more to work with in terms of assessments.
5 It’s okay to be emotional sometimes
I have had pity parties over assessments, and I’ve had other ones where I’ve left on top of the world, excited about the progress that we’ve all been making. Some meetings have stirred up completely different emotions between me and my husband, because not everyone is going to react the same way at the same time. Give yourself permission to feel the way you need to feel and then move forward.
4 People will say things you don’t want to hear
My husband and I are open about our lives as parents. This is not an invitation for someone to compare their child’s development directly to either of our children. I know we do it naturally, I’m guilty of it too. It hurts, and even the best intentioned criticism from friends and family can make a parent feel like they’re failing. I am not opposed to a little sharing, celebrating all of the amazing things that other people’s kids are doing, just don’t compare them directly with either of my kids.
3 Communication is key
It feels silly to say that communication is key in an article about the development of verbal, social and communication skills, but I’m talking about open and regular contact between all of the people who spend the most time with your child. A simple email about a bad night’s sleep, moodiness, changes in routine, or significant shifts in behaviour (both good and bad, i.e. sudden increase in tantrums, or attention span at story time) will make more formal meetings even more productive. The more you connect with each other, the faster you’ll be able to come up with solutions to any potential issues.
2 Enthusiasm is contagious
The more supportive we’ve been in our efforts with our son surrounding speech and social development therapy, the harder our daycare staff and family and friends have worked to help us work with him. People want to help, you just need to ask. These specialists and caregivers can often end up becoming the best cheerleaders alongside you in your journey with your child. Our specialists and caregivers have become some of the best and most influential cheerleaders in our family’s journey.
1 Why so serious?
Parenting is hard work. Parenting an atypical child with unique learning needs presents entirely different types of circumstances. If we were serious about everything it would be terrible. One of the most amazing things about my son is his relationship with his sister, a very typical child who embraces and adores her brother for all of his quirks and his wild imagination. She’ll play with standard dolls alongside her brother, who has opted to play with a deflated talking balloon he calls Phipp instead of regular toys.
Some days are really hard, it’s even worse when these days become weeks, but we know we have amazing children who know how much we love them, how proud we are of them for everything they accomplish, and work on achieving, and that makes it all worthwhile.