A couple weeks ago, I stepped out of the office, grabbed an iced coffee at the Au Bon Pain next door, and sat outside on the patio. Shortly, I would be joined by a social worker and a speech pathologist. I stretched out, relaxed and confident.
Flash back to more than six months ago, sitting cross-legged on my cramped living room floor with two evaluators from the local Early Intervention Partnerships Program. On referral from my daughter’s pediatrician, shortly after she turned 18 months old, she would be evaluated for her eligibility to receive support services for language development. After a battery of tests disguised as play, where I had to frequently fight the urge to exclaim “wait, she totally knows how to do or say that” or similar protests, she did indeed qualify to receive support for a mild expressive speech delay.
This was not a grave diagnosis. Z was (and is) bright, social, and healthy. But she was not acquiring language at the same rate as her peers. Would she catch up on her own? Maybe. Probably. But we decided to seek support.
I am lucky to live in an area where receiving professional support to help with her development is low-cost or even free, and readily available. Should she have had gross motor or other kinds of delays or disabilities, she could have received help with those as well. And thanks to knowing several other parents with kids around her age who received similar Early Intervention (EI) services, I did not feel a stigma in seeking them out for Z.
But the assessment weighed on me, and I can only wonder if part of that was because I ply my trade as a communicator. Without my words, I feel like I have little to offer. Selfishly and perhaps unreasonably, it seemed almost cruel that the communicator’s kid only reliably used a few words by the time she was one and a half.
This is all amplified by the inevitable comparisons you make between your kid and other kids. It’s so easy to put two kids of roughly the same age side by side and try to determine who is more communicative, more social, more physically adept, and so on. The comparison game is a losing game for everyone, since it is not a truly effective gauge of where a kid is at, but it will get you every time. I would cringe when a kid Z’s age or even younger could so much capably express themselves than she could, and I would be extra frustrated when I could not understand her needs or wishes.
I’ve talked to other parents who’ve struggled with well-intentioned comparisons against “the wide range of normal,” when sometimes that range didn’t apply to them. This can be difficult territory to navigate, fraught with strong emotions on all sides. It is disappointing to feel like your child isn’t normal and needs “special help.” What could I have done differently? You can’t help but wonder.
But as difficult as it was to accept the fact that we qualified for support, the support we received was great. Having Early Intervention available as an option gave us validation, information, strategies, and support. We established specific goals for the progress we hoped to see in the first six months. The social worker assigned to Z was flexible in being able to work with her in her daycare classroom. We chatted regularly about progress and strategies, and Z enjoyed her visits. When I finally, somewhat nervously sat down to make a word list, I found that Z knew more words than I gave her credit for. The list soon became not worth maintaining. Two-word phases appeared, soon to be replaced by the occasional three-word sentence, and we celebrated each step forward.
Back to the Au Bon Pain patio. It’s the six-month evaluation, looking back at the goals we established when Z began receiving services. As expected, she met all of her goals and is considered caught up to her peers in speech and language.
We now regularly have conversations about what she did at school that day (“I colored a purple car”), what she wants to do in the morning (“I wanna go to the baseball game and see the alligators,” obvs), what I should do (“Mommy, sit down on the floor right there, read this book”) and of course, the latest gossip on who-bit-who.
The progress she’s made and continues to make is remarkable. I’m proud. I’m relieved. I’m grateful. We are lucky to have these kinds of services available to us—I know not everyone does. And I am glad I wasn’t too proud or stubborn to seek them out.
Once we debriefed on Z’s communications progress, the EI staff and I set a new goal for continued services. But this time, we’ll be working on behavior. Since just because she may be able to communicate doesn’t always mean she wants to listen. Oh, toddlers.