It can be hard to recognize, and even harder to accept, that your child may have a developmental delay - especially when they are otherwise thriving and healthy. In this week’s blog one of our blog writers, Bonnie Pyles, shares her experience in identifying her son’s speech delay and the resources and people who helped her family face it head on. Read Bonnie’s story here.
When my son, Josiah, was closing in on two years old, I remember going to the pediatrician and discussing speech milestones. She asked if he had 50 words in his vocabulary and I knew in the back of my head, there was no way that was the case for our son. In fact, when I took the time to count his words, he was at about 20 words total at two years old. My pediatrician recommended getting him evaluated for speech therapy and all of my walls went up… I was seven months pregnant with our second little one and I had no close friends whose children had delayed speech. In fact, I had a number of friends whose children were advanced for their age, which I had already noticed during our playdates. I had done so many “right” things to encourage his speech development: I read books to him daily (in fact, I sold Usborne Books & More at the time, so I had a ton of beautiful, age appropriate books for his library); I attempted baby sign language, which seemed to backfire when he created his own set of self-made signs to communicate with our family; and I had limited television and screen-time to a minimum.
One morning during one of my MOPS meetings, I expressed my concerns on speech therapy with my table, only to learn that two of the moms in my group had children who had gone through and graduated from speech therapy. My fears were quickly calmed and I decided to call our county’s Early Intervention group to schedule an evaluation. The day of the evaluation two therapists came to our house, along with a social worker to document everything. The therapists did everything from ask Josiah to do simple tasks like kick a ball and bring something to me, to stringing a large bead and completing simple puzzles. They asked him questions and he answered in his own way. They also asked me questions about his speech, diet, behavior and so on. By the end of the evaluation the therapists tallied up scores and explained to me that he scored highly on almost every section, except expressive speech. His expressive speech was so drastically different that, although he did not initially qualify for speech therapy, they allowed for a “therapist override”, in which I was the main decider on going forward with speech therapy or not. With a newborn baby just weeks from arrival, I decided it certainly would not hurt giving things a try.
Josiah’s speech therapist came to meet with us in our home a week before our sweet Melody was born. The first meeting was mostly getting acquainted with each other and setting some goals for the next year. I remember saying how frustrated I had been with potty-training my son because he could not tell me if he needed to go to the bathroom even though I knew he was aware of himself and capable of doing-so. I also remember discussing how many times he would throw a tantrum, which would turn into a meltdown because I could not understand him or could I talk to him easily. The next part of our meeting included simple playtime and repetition of words. Our therapist picked up a ball, dragged it up and put it inside of a container. “Up, up, up… and in!” she repeated over and over to Josiah. Josiah quickly caught on and pretty soon I heard him beginning to mimic her words, in his own way. We quickly set some goals for our next meeting and I immediately felt confident in the whole process.
In the weeks to follow, Josiah picked up new words each time. Our therapist did such an excellent job in communicating with our son by bringing things he loved (games, puzzles, books) and implementing speech with him. In taking turns during a game, she would emphasize, “Okay, my turn!” Then, over the next week, my homework would be to find ways to discuss ownership when playing with Josiah. Once he was able to properly say things such as, “me, my, mine” I really began to see his speech explode. I vividly remember the day she taught him two-syllable words… “I say base, you say ball! Base-ball, base-ball. You say base, I say ball, base-ball, base-ball.” By the following week, I had successfully added baseball and donut to Josiah’s vocabulary with simply having fun with him and being silly.
We also were able to participate in a free program through our therapist’s agency, which was a pre-preschool class once a week. Parents stayed the whole time, siblings were welcomed, and the kids participated in everything from singing, blowing bubbles, snacking, crafting, playing outside and inside and even trick-or-treating! As a first-time mom, it was really encouraging to see other kids, Josiah’s age, in similar stages of speech development. It certainly made me feel less alone.
Our social worker came to visit a few times during the year, just to observe and make sure Josiah was getting the help he needed. Towards the end of the year, we had one final evaluation by a new therapist. She went through some of the same questions and tasks that Josiah did before beginning therapy, and he passed with flying colors. I will admit, both of us were teary-eyed when our wonderful therapist left us after our final session. I felt like she had given my son the words to talk, that he had struggled so hard to have in the beginning. We were truly blessed during the whole speech therapy journey!
If you are concerned about your child’s speech, I would highly recommend bringing it up at your next pediatrician appointment. I know how scary it can feel, especially when you may hear that “your kid will eventually talk” by well-meaning friends and strangers. However, taking that first step opened my son’s world to endless speech and communication. I will forever be grateful for speaking up for him, when he could not do-so himself.