Category Archives: Speech delay

The Social Piece of Language: My Journey with Late-Talkers

As a parent of a late-talker, we wait on pins and needles for our children to start talking. For their words to blossom and expand, to open their mouths, to let the sounds come out, to simply trust in those words, in this very complex thing called language.

I hear this all the time from new parents on this journey, or for parents who are still waiting for their child to talk, especially as children turn three or four or five, and those parents might still be waiting… that feeling of, sometimes, desperation that comes with this simple, yet scary question:

“When will my child start talking?”

So much of our focus goes into that time, that moment. So much of our energy and worry and hope, as parents and professionals, is all focused on that one moment, if you will.

For us, for Kate, that moment wasn’t until she turned four. Her first functional word (“no”) wasn’t until she was 37 months and after that she had only a handful of words by the time she turned four (“baby” and “daddy” were two of the big ones). But she got there, she hit that “talking” milestone, the moment where she decided to open her mouth and try to talk, even as uncomfortable as it was that her words weren’t perfect. Not long after she hit her first language burst and we were off to the word-races.

You’d think that would be the end of the story. You’d think that, “Hey! She’s talking now, it’s all good, right?”

Well… no. You’d be wrong.

You see, the journey doesn’t end when the words start coming. In fact, it’s really just the start of the journey and this part here, what happens after the language burst, it’s not something I’ve heard a whole lot about. I’d really like to share this next stage in the journey for other parents out there, and for parents too who might be so focused on ‘when the words come’ that they might be disappointed when they see that the journey’s not over yet.

And hey, maybe what I’ve experienced won’t be the same for you and your child (that’s certainly not a bet I’m willing to take). Maybe your child will just start picking words up and language and will fall back into the crowd with her same-age peers and be caught up in no time.

Or, maybe not.

If not, you’re not alone. There are other families out there navigating this different world when your child doesn’t fit into any one box… or if your child decides to say, “the hell with boxes…”

And they just sit on top of that damn box.

Your child might be autistic, and there’s such a range in that spectrum alone that your journey will look different from ours. Or maybe your child was just slightly delayed with the language, or maybe they’re even like Kate who has both a receptive and expressive language disorder. Regardless, you’ll have your family on your side, your professionals backing you up as you go (professionals you trust and that fits your family and your child’s needs, of course).

This is just me, sharing what Kate’s process has looked like as she moved from “just talking” into that other really complex part of language…

The social piece of language.

Kate is turning five next week and her language is about where a normal three and a half year-old is at. Which is just super awesome. She’s making leaps and bounds with language, starting to work on her grammar, adding it in naturally as her sentences have moved into three and four words at a time. She is communicating with so many people, different moms and dads, kids her age, younger, and older. She’s my little social butterfly and just today, after I told her we were meeting new friends at a park, she goes right up to this new mom, who she’s never met before, and holds out to show her Twilight Sparkle from My Little Ponies (I imagine Kate said something like, “Rarity,” which is her word for all of the ponies). Then she’s off and playing with this new girl, saying, “Hi” and waving and running after her.

It’s a beautiful thing, one I never get tired of seeing. It has lost sparkle yet, and I don’t think it will any time soon. I feel such pride and awe when I watch her interact and play. Holy shit have we come far. Holy shit have we all worked hard (and played!) to get to this point.

She has worked hard.

But at the same time, amidst all this progress, there’s a shift occurring with language, with this age range of children.

We are a homeschooling family, which at this point, with how old my kids are, means we just play. We play a lot. We go to the park, we’re out in danger, we’re swimming.

We’re constantly inviting friends over and having one-on-one play dates with other families. Those other kids are simply fantastic with Kate. They know her language is delayed, that she’s still learning to talk, and they have a tremendous amount of patience for her (this, though, would not have been possible if not for the awesome parents involved, who have talked with their own kids to help them understand).

Kate is also a bit towards the younger end of our particular age group, which ranges from late four to seven years of age. Most often, if there are little ones around (like Eric’s age of two or younger), they’re a sibling of an older child.

Okay, you’re thinking, big deal.

Well, actually, believe it or not, it is a big deal.

There’s a developmental shift that starts happening, especially in that five and six years of age. Not that I’m an expert, this is straight-up just from antecedes and what I’ve personally seen, but there is a social change that happens.

The social play, the language, gets more complex (certainly for girls; I’ll throw that little caveat in there: what I’m talking about here is mostly for girls). They want to play house or salon. They want more rules. They want their fellow play-mates to do certain things and they expect those playmates to also suggest ideas of their own. There’s not as much patience for someone to respond to a phrase or request. It’s like, they expect this almost rapid, instantaneous response.

This is something that my child, with a receptive and expressive delay, can’t keep up with.

And also, there may not be a whole lot of kindness and grace in these five and six year olds, as they wait for the other child, who is thinking through what they heard, trying to form a response, or, if they even understood. Again, it feels like a developmental stage, especially compared to a child who is 9 or 10, like the mother’s helper I have coming over to who play with my kids, and she has an incredible amount of patience.

The stage that Kate is in right now, for language, is mimicking and repeating. She repeats everything. Seriously. And it’s fantastic! I mean, that’s a huge part of learning language: practicing the words and phrases you hear. Kate does this with me, Grandma, other adults, and other kids.

But sometimes that’s not always understood, and sometimes, it can seem hurtful.

We had a friend over at our pool and this girl told me, “Kate’s copying me.”

Well, yes, yes she was. That’s what she does. I explained that Kate was learning language and that’s why she was repeating after her. I told her that Kate repeats after me all the time. But it wasn’t enough to ease this girl’s worries and I didn’t realize until later why: where she was at, developmentally, was a completely different stage than Kate.

When other six and seven year olds repeat you, when they copy what you’re doing, it’s because they’re being mean.

My jaw dropped on that one.

Of course! How could I have forgotten?? (Well… it’s been a really long time since I was seven, that’s why.)

But knowing this now, having this information, it will help me respond in the future. How to reach out to other kids, who might think that Kate’s being mean (because again, she’s five and not the three and half she’s at with language).

Again, this is not to pick on or point out that the other kids are just mean at this age and to run for the hills and avoid play-dates until the kids magically start being kind again (there’s nothing magic about parenting, let me tell you). Yet knowing and understanding where the other kids are at, developmentally, this has helped me to respond better. The more knowledge I have, the better I’m able to help guide Kate — because even though she’s talking, guys, guess what? She still needs my help. She still needs me to step in, to guide her in what’s being asked, or to hug her while she’s upset because she needs to share her “house” with other kids (in this instance, the house was part of the playground structure).

For the record, Kate’s at the stage of ‘why the hell do I need to share???’ So even though she’s only talking at a three and a half year-old level, she still has the developmental feelings of a five year-old! Good times, let me tell you.

I’ve noticed too, with the older kids, and kids her age, they may not have as much fun when they play with Kate. If we have someone come over, especially to the house where there’s toys, they lose interest in the kind of play Kate wants to do. Her play is still at the simple stages, especially with dolls or playing with her Calico Critters or My Little Ponies. Pretending that a critter gets hurt and needs a “doctor.” Or purposefully falling down and saying, “he died.”

It’s simple play still, and pretty darn boring for the other kid (or, to be honest, me as the parent).

I mean, it’s totally fine if Kate busts out the WiiU and starts playing Splatoon or Yoshi or Mario Kart. In those moments she’s generally the one with the more knowledge and shows the other kids what to do.

But when it comes to language, to the social side of it, the kids her age are moving into much, much more complex areas, into deeper waters, and she’s still just having fun running around in the shallow end.

Which, by the way, is totally fine.

It’s just means that, as a parent, I’ve needed to adjust. I’ve shifted my approach, to friends and playmates, for her. It’s changed because she, and the other kids, have changed.

We still meet and see these older kids, but we’re often swimming or at the park or playing at our favorite creek, areas where the focus is on the physical play and not the in-depth social side.

In fact, I saw this happen just recently with an older girl, who just turned seven. Incredibly sweet, super excited to meet and play with Kate, but after a little while I could tell she wasn’t enjoying the play with Kate as much because of that communication barrier. But when the play turned to the physical, fun kind of play, the mood shifted entirely.

Part of that was giving the girls time, to meet each other halfway (it was either that or be bored), but the other part was my stepping in and engaging in play… and ironically, play that was focused on Eric.

One thing I’m still working on as parent is to let go the ‘parent side’ and just play with my kids. I can’t tell you why, but play can be a hard, hard shift for me to make. Thankfully, my little Eric responds best to this kind of play, silly fun and simply play, and guess what?

The second I start going with Eric, Kate is rushing on over.

I started a game on a little swinging bridge at the play structure, where I pretended to catch Eric’s toes. Well, about two minutes of that, of his silly laughter and my funny words, and there’s Kate.

Another minute later? Yep, the seven-year-old is asking to play too.

We all had a blast. Seriously, I had so much fun, just letting go and playing and being silly (you’d think I’d remember so the next time it wouldn’t be such a big effort to shake that being-a-mom-thing). And when Eric tired of that game, I watched this physical play, for Kate and this other girl, continue. It involved another little brother and then yet another child.

Play is infectious.

And seriously, get an adult actually playing? The kids come running to join in.

And if we do see kids her age, I might invite only one or two families along. If it’s two families, I often make sure there’s a younger child there so when the older ones go off and bond and play, there’s someone who Kate can still interact with. Or I just invite one family with one older child. It sounds simple, but it makes the world of difference for the kids involved. It helps them connect, all on their own, and find a way to interact so everyone has fun.

Another change I’ve seen in Kate is her absolute enjoyment playing with younger kids. I’ve watched as she continually chooses to not play with the kid her age (or a year older) and instead play with children who are three years old. She follows them and mimics them, they mimic her, and there’s so much laughter involved. This simple kind of play, man, she gets so much joy in it. One time I watched as her and this little boy, just two months older than Eric, made their way from rock to rock at the tide pools, how they would laugh hysterically when a wave hit them.

It was special.

So, I’m following Kate’s lead in regards to social play. And really, that’s what this whole journey has been about: following her lead.

I’m moving away from play dates with only her peers, to the younger ones. How one week, at the local creek, she followed this one mom and her 20-month-old boy around. Later this mom told me, “She’s so good with him.”

Again, special.

Our kids don’t need to be “normal.” They don’t need to fit into any one shape or size or colored box. They are, in fact, telling us what they need, what they want, if we’re aware enough to listen.

Often, as parents, we might need to shift. Shift our expectations, shift our way of doing things, especially as our kids outgrow one way and start heading in another direction. That’s what I’ve seen so far with language, at least language involving little girls. I imagine Eric’s experience will be totally different and yet, in some ways, very similar.

As the social complexity and expectations have grown, Kate is finding her place and her joy among the little ones. It’s beautiful and something I treasure dearly. To think she might have long-lasting relationships with a two-year-old, someone that might see Kate as a very special friend as they grow up.

My late-talkers are a gift and a treasure. It’s not an easy path, especially since we’re figuring things out as we go, certainly as we’re moving forward into new this new territory, but as we do I hope to reach out to other parents and say: this journey doesn’t have to be so lonely and scary and dark.

Your journey, your path, is yours and yours alone.

It’s one you and your family, your children, will make and it will be so incredibly unique and different, just as your kids are unique and different. And while many of us have worried and wondered and fretted about when our kids would start talking, it’s also still a journey, one that could be over shortly, or one that will never fully be over.

The choice we have, as parents, is the mindset we bring with us. Worry and fear, or joy and love?

I will do my best, every day, every moment, to chose joy and love. I don’t always succeed, but I’ll try, and try again. All I have to do is look at their smiling, joyful faces to see the blessings I’ve been given. And every day will be a new experience. I’ll keep learning, keep seeing where this language journey takes Kate, and then Eric. We will surround ourselves with friendships that continue to help them blossom and grow. For now, that means making a shift in our play, in the ages and groups we’re playing with, but making those shifts and changes, it’s really what parenting is all about… whether you have a normal child or one who sits on top of that box.

The Hidden Toll of Parenting

Our bodies, as human beings, are crazy resilient. I mean, really. They can put up with a lot …. months (or years) of poor sleep, eating McDonalds Chicken McNuggets by the pound (me, in my youth, anyway), the constant stress pouring in from every which way possible, from family, work, heck, even getting on the freeway and driving to Grandma’s. And yet, at some point, our bodies slam the breaks on and says, “Enough is a enough, dude.”

Let’s go ahead a little one or two to that mix and see what happens. You know, children. Especially young children who you can’t reason with (or beg), who have their own very clear needs and who really, really couldn’t give a shit about yours (like sleeping).

And while we’re at this, let’s up the ante some and add a special needs element just for fun.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

It is the most beautiful, rewarding journey I’ve ever been on — and it’s also the one that’s tested me beyond what I thought was physically and mentally possible.

And, I’m far, far from being out of the woods.

I realize my recent posts have this kind of desperate tinge to them, but what can I say? This is the life I’m living. It will get better, it will get easier, but right now, right at this very moment? It’s hard.

Hard.

And there are days when I feel so completely alone, trapped by the needs (re: demands) of my two-year-old, and I’m doing all I can to simply keep breathing (and somehow still being the parent I want to be). Eric is literally smack-dab in the hardest part of his young years. He has the usual ‘can’t-wait-even-a-second’ when he wants something, which then usually results in a crying, screaming meltdown, with hands (and sometimes feet) flying and doing his best to smack me.

Why? Because he knows I don’t like it.

Now, I’ll be honest: it’s getting better. Sometimes he’s a foot from me with both hands going and he’s aware that while he wants to hit me he’s not supposed to.

Why am I mentioning this?

Because every little positive step forward counts, and when you’re right in the thick of things when all you can see of the forest are the pine needles sticking into your eyes, you’ve got to hold onto the positive things. Just like the potty training bit, which is finally, finally coming together. We’re almost there. Not that we’re “done” (done in my mind is when I almost never have to think about it), but Eric’s initiating on his own, and he’s communicating with us when we’re out of the house and he needs the potty.

That’s huge.

Huge.

Especially from a child who’s been completely reluctant to use any form of communication… unless he darn well feels like it. Ah, the stubbornness of kids. (And the intense, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me stubbornness of late-talkers. )

And while I have some positive moments throughout my day, some little successes whether it’s the potty or Eric engaging in play with Kate or me, it doesn’t take away from how crazy hard life is right now.

For Eric, all his feelings, his intense toddler emotions, it’s compounded by a ton of frustration because he has no functional words yet. He doesn’t even have the word “no.” And Eric’s not taking this mid, two-year-old stage with grace the way Kate did. She saw the communication piece as this great giant puzzle… “Hmm, how can I tell Mom that I want to watch a Tinker Bell movie even though it comes from the strange red Netflix button?”

And yes, she’d figure it out. That was in her personality.

Eric? Not so much.

Like, really, really not so much.

If Eric wants to have four bananas for breakfast and I’m in the middle of saying, “No,” (with good reason, I might add) and there he goes. His switch has flipped and I’ve got to stop what I’m doing (usually in the midst of making an actual breakfast) and help him through those emotions. This means being present and calm (ok, I try really hard to stay calm but flailing hands certainly has an effect on my inner cool), sooth him with understanding (and hopefully words he can understand)… and just ride it out.

I have to support him.

I can’t get mad or leave the room. Or yell. Or let my own inner frustration (re: tantrum) out.

Time outs don’t work for us (even if they’re actually for me and I shut myself in the bathroom). Now, this might work on some kids. Not Eric. He gets even madder and goes right for that thing he knows he’s not supposed to do. Like bang the gate surrounding the very expensive electronics. Or climb into the toilet.

You know, toddler things.

Your family is gonna have different mileage here and oh boy, do these two-year-old years vary. Your family is gonna have different needs. Heck I’ve got two kids and they handled this stage completely differently. Kate ran off and cried in her crying castle. Eric wants to hit me.

Throw in any kind of special needs, from late-talking and sensory, to those of you parents with even greater challenges (who have my utmost respect and awe for), and these years are just tough. Tough. And as I’m slowly (sadly) realizing, there’s not some magic technique or spoonful of sugar that’s gonna make these moments go away (or any easier). It’s part of their development and us poor parents, we got to do our best and help the frustrated kids through the ginormous disappointments in life.

Like not eating as many bananas as you damn well want.

And sleep?

Oh, dear lord, do I miss sleep. Even right now, on a good sleep schedule (for us), I’m looking at only 3-5 hours of solid, consecutive sleep. The rest of my morning is dealing with Eric waking up every 3 hours. If I’m lucky, he goes to bed immediately. If not I’m up for an hour, comforting him, helping his body settled back down.

You’re probably wondering why the heck I’m bringing all these challenges up, why I’m listing out each reason why life is so freakin’ hard life is right now.

I just had a blood test confirm what I already knew: the sleep deprivation and stress has taken its toll.

I mean, I knew this was most likely the case but I didn’t really know. I do now.

My blood work is wonderful. Really. Green all across the board from cholesterol to Vitamin D. Except, I have inflammation. Inflammation that is directly related to sleep and stress.

Well, shit.

Now, I’ve suspected this for awhile now. Parenting my two young kids has taken a toll on my body. But the question remains (and it’s a big one): what the heck can I do about it??

I mean, it’s not like I can just decrease my stress by handing my son off to daycare (if you haven’t been following my blog, just know this would not be a good move for Eric).

Also, since March I cut out almost all sugar. I had to. All the broken sleep, when we went through that terrible patch for six months, I needed to stop the sweets and give my body a chance to heal (it did, and still is). My poor metabolism was shot and I was putting on a few pounds. Not a lot but enough that the negative self-talk in my head was adding more stress, not to mention feeling bloated and icky all the time.

Again, I focused on what I could do: not eating the sugar and focusing on sleep. Not that I can control how often my kids wake up at night, but how much caffeine and alcohol I was drinking, how long before bed, even making the bedroom more sleep friendly. I even added an scented candle, nature music, and an acupressure mat to my bedtime routine.

It’s helped.

But the question is, what do I do now?

I mean, the blood test confirmed I’ve got some inflammation issues and the sleep guide the Dietitian sent me is all great… except I’m already doing it. And it’s not like I want to be waking up 2-3 times a night. It’s not my choice. It’s my kids’ choice. You know, those little individuals who I have zero control over.

And I think that’s what’s so frustrating about this. I have all these wonderful recommendations to help with the inflammation, but it feels like half of them simply don’t apply to me. Because I’m a parent. Because the reasons for the sleep, for the stress, are because I’m a parent.

And a parent of a very frustrated, right-in-the-middle of being a two-year-old… you know, exactly what he’s supposed to be doing at this developmental stage.

I know darn well the best medicine for us is time. Eric needs time to grow and mature, to settle in with his language, with his sleep. I know in my heart that’s what he needs except… what about me in the mean time? How much of myself, my own health, is getting sacrificed in the process?

How can I focus on my own self-care, on healing my own body, when the cause is my children?

The answer is no. The answer is also yes.

I mean, there are some things I can do, small minor tweaks to help myself out as much as possible, but the source of the stress and the sleep deprivation, well, that ain’t goin’ away (probably not even when they’re grown up with families of their own).

And sure I’ve got the stress of Eric’s frustrations, the instant explosions he’s having these days, but I haven’t even touched on the anxiety I feel about an upcoming video consult with our speech therapist. I mean, here I am, Ms. Confident when it comes to this late-talking journey, and I’m still scared. Scared that she won’t see the progress that Eric has made, which has been huge for him. Yes, he’s behind. Yes, he’s not where other boys are at, but oh my gosh, we’re making progress. We’re making these huge stride forwards, even if on the outside they only look like little itty-bitty steps.

The point is they’re there.

All of them.

All the visual referencing, how Eric will engage with people he trusts and likes in some kind of play, or will show off to his aunt and uncle as he falls splat-face-first on the couch.

But I’m still scared that our speech professional will just come back and put more worries or doubts in my mind. I don’t need those doubts. They’re not gonna help me. Not now. Not when I know we are already doing everything that Eric needs, and honestly, everything he’ll accept. (Strange speech therapist, who he doesn’t know, trying to play with him? Prompt him when it comes to play? Oh hell no.)

All that above?

That’s stress.

It’s a hidden kind of stress, something that most people who look at me will never see. I generally don’t talk about Eric and his journey because again, I can’t have your doubts or judgments in me. I simply can’t. I’m already treading water here, doing my best to support my kids in the ways that I know they need.

Which again… all this… it’s taking a toll on my body.

And truthfully, there’s not a whole lot left I can do to make it better. I’ve been focused on thinking creatively, of thinking outside the box, but the challenges of my particular family means I can’t just drop them off with a baby-sitter or a co-op or a daycare. Maybe in a few years, sure, but not now.

I know I’m not there yet, and while there are things I can’t simply make go away (fear of the upcoming video consult), there are other things I can do.

Like my self-care. Like making sure that every day, I leave the house for at least 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of just me, my thoughts, and no kids. I need that. I need a chance to breathe. I mean, really truly breathe… without every exhale wondering what the heck the two-year-old is banging into now. I’ve already talked with Sean about this. I understand it’s hard for him when Eric’s screaming because Mommy is leaving without him, but I need this more.

I need time with no kids.

I’ll grab my laptop, a book, a journal. Maybe I’ll do some writing, maybe I’ll just sit outside, and again, just breathe.

I’m also setting up times when a mother’s helper can come over and play with both kids. This isn’t going to give me any alone time, but it will take some pressure off. Maybe I can cut up veggies for dinner then or write an email the requires my whole brain actually paying attention. Or hide out in the bedroom and work on my publishing business.

I guess what I’m saying, is I’m asking for help. Mostly from family at this point, but I’m asking. And, I’m prioritizing my time. When Grandma comes over for a visit, instead of doing the dishes or working on food, I’m going to leave the house. Again, time for me and me only.

That’s so not an easy thing for me to do, but I’m gonna do it.

Small, little shifts.

I went out to breakfast with a dear friend and I left feeling amazing. Like I was filled with this wonderful energy. I’ll do that more too. Just getting away and connecting with someone who I know will make me feel good.

I’m going to surround myself with the right kind of people. People who add to my energy and happiness rather than take away from it.

Again, small little shifts.

This stress of parenting, especially right now, it’s real. And I’m right in the thick of it.

I know too, I’m not alone. I’m not alone in feeling trapped, frustrated, at times, even depressed. And those of you who have kids who walk to a different beat? You’re not alone in all those feelings either.

And I’m here to say: I get it.

I mean, I can’t get exactly what you’re going through, but I empathize with you. And I applaud you. Truly. With all my heart. It takes a courageous person to embrace being different, whether you have a special needs child, you homeschool, or you’ve chosen a different way of parenting than the norm.

At times parenting is a real lonely journey and we have no choice but to keep moving forward, keep doing our best. It’s hard and it takes a physical toll. It does. And it takes a mental and an emotional one, so let’s all recognize that together. Let’s all recognize that the journey is wonderful, and it’s all really hard and draining, especially as every day we try our best.

Because you know, when your little child smiles at you, you know, without a doubt, it’s totally worth it.

Yes, yes it is.

But we, as parents, we matter too.

So take the time to care for yourself. Do whatever it is you need to feel whole and healthy and alive. Maybe we can’t do a whole lot, but even doing a little bit, it matters.

Just like you.

You, dear parent, you matter too.

The Introverted Parent

 

Society, at least from my point of view, doesn’t really give a shit about us introverts. You know, those people who get incredibly exhausted being around others, who feel completely drained when they go to big group gatherings, the kind of people whose idea of a day off (or heck, a vacation) is staying at home.

That’s me.

Actually, that’s my whole family.

Sure we spent four wonderful hours on Saturday, socializing and catching up with long-time friends and their adorable kids (in which everyone had a fantastic time), but throw in two hours of driving (thank you, downtown LA) and for the rest of the weekend, each and every one of us, were fried. Fried. From me and Sean, to Kate and Eric.

We’re introverts.

Going out and having fun means we need time to re-center ourselves, to settle in and fill up our cups. The day after a fun, socializing event, we’re in front of iPads or playing video games or reading books or coloring. Sure Eric might be sprawled across my lap (he usually is), since that little boy needs constant connection, but he’s also doing his own thing and he doesn’t want interaction. The same with Kate too. I jokingly tell Sean I’m never alone because I’ve got one kid pressed against my side, the other on my lap, each of us lost in our world but still having this connection.

We each need our own space. We all need quiet, this alone time to recharge our batteries, to refill our cup (or throw in your favorite description here).

The point, is we each need this time to refill our well of energy.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “So what? You’re different. You need to time at home, what’s the problem?”

Or, maybe you read all that and you’re nodding your head going, “Wow! I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

The problem is society, and pretty much anyone with an opinion on parenting. Think about it for a moment. Think about all the stuff you’re supposed “to do” to be a good parent, to help raise healthy, happy kids. Constantly engaging with your child, through play or talking. Lots of one-on-one interactions. Lots of play outside. Parks. All the feeding and care associated with such outings.

Oh, and make sure they’re having healthy, whole foods and none of that drive-thru crap. Which, of course, means the endless cutting of vegetables and bucket-loads of fruit (while at the same time praying your toddler doesn’t get into too much trouble, or if you’re living in my shoes, he doesn’t take that moment to poop on the floor because he knows darn well you aren’t watching).

There are some of us, who, for that day I just described, can’t do that.

Like really and truly, can’t.

We’re not built that way.

Some of us can’t go out to endless events, art classes, park days, and on top of that, have one-on-one play dates (or go to school, if you’re the schooling family). Oh! And let’s not forget two different outings in one day, each lasting hours each.

There are some of us who, when we stumble into our glorious home (sometimes with upset, crying kids cause they’re also are low on energy) all we want is to collapse on the couch and drink a glass of wine.

Or two.

And yet… as a parent, I’m constantly bombarded with messaging all around that I’m not doing enough — that what I’m doing isn’t good enough.

Because…

What about the book time and reading together?

What about sitting on the floor, playing one-on-one?

What about the speech play for Eric? Did we have enough physical play? Did he get outside enough to run around?

Well, what about Kate? She’s Miss Constantly-Wants-to-Socialize.

And guess what’s that means? Going out. Together. And me using energy resources to help her and guide her, while running after Eric and making sure he steers clear of the street (not kidding, park days usually clock in a good mile for me).

Oh yes, and let’s not forget the message that screen time is bad for kids. That we will damage our kids if they’re watching too much TV or playing on the iPad or whatever. Now, you can totally have your own opinions about this, I’m certainly not judging you or your family or your values, not at all. What I’m saying though is we’re all different and we all have different needs. And can we please, at least for the moment, lay off of putting all this blame and guilt on people who are just exhausted? Parents who, truly, are trying to their best??

For me, by the end of the day I’m bone-tired exhausted.

After an outing I need my kids to be quiet, to give me some peace and quiet, even if it’s just so I can get together dinner. It doesn’t matter that all I want is to call it a night and go to bed at 6:00 with the kids. But what’s hard is constantly hearing the critical voices in my head, whispering that I’m this bad parent because they spent how many hours playing games or watching movies?

Guilt. Shame.

I swear, it feels like I’m constantly fighting them. Constantly fighting this message that I’m not doing enough. How, pretty much every day, being Super Mom isn’t enough (or Super Dad, whichever parent or caregiver is at home).

On top of the usual parenting challenge course (I swear, sometimes I feel like those little dogs running through those competition-obstacle courses), I’ve decided to be the main speech partner for both of my kids as well as homeschooling them. At this point in our life, the homeschooling part is literally just playing and living life. We’ll color and paint, play some board games, but it’s really following Kate’s lead and where her interest is (like making word hide-and-seek books).

But…

It’s the one-on-one time that’s challenging.

Playing board games requires Godzilla-Eric to be napping (or Daddy around and keeping his little hands from grabbing the scissors Kate’s using for her word books). Or with Eric, the speech play means Kate needs to be engaging in her things and willingly to leave us alone for a few minutes.

Why?

Well, for the speech part, Eric needs one-on-one time. Time where I’m able to pause, give him a chance to think through what I’m doing, what my words (or actions) are asking of him. He needs time and space to do this, which for him means comfort and a feeling of safety…

And the minute I start engaging and playing with him, as I’m laughing or clapping when he puts the shape into the puzzle box, Kate comes running over because she wants to play too.

Cause, we’re having fun.

Which is all well and good except, again, Eric is a “need-my-space” kinda kid. He gets frustrated when she starts putting her grubby hands on his shape pieces. And his only mode of dealing with frustrations is, no surprise, crying and trying to hit her.

It’s not going well.

Or I should say, it’s not easy.

Kate has needs (she wants to play too!). Eric has needs (translation: leave me the heck alone; I want to play with Mom. By myself.). And then me, well, I have needs too (oh please, just give me five minutes of quiet).

For us, all of those needs are also tied to our energy. And how much we have (or often, don’t have).

Because we’re all introverts I really need to have my awareness keyed on the energy pulse of each of us… myself, the kids, Sean too. In the situation above like I just described with the puzzle box, and while this is true of all kids, it’s especially true of mine (who are both introverts and late-talkers). I need to set back and see why the heck this situation (Kate’s interference, Eric’s frustration) is happening in the first place.

Kate wants interaction and play of her own. With me.

Eric wants the same… but without Kate butting in and doing the puzzle for him.

Well, okay then.

Let’s just add that to the energy schedule as well as shopping at Costco and farmers market. Oh, yeah, and we’ve got Grandma coming over that day too.

It’s a constant juggling act and one I’m slowly starting to accept (and internalize), is going to look different compared to everyone else’s. The life choices we made (homeschooling, speech play) as well as the ones we didn’t get to choose (introverts, late-talkers), all that means our home life will look different than most of the families out there.

There are choices we need to make, like screen time or only one outing a weekend (or day), that fit us. That fit our needs.

And really, parents, we need to start accepting that for our kids to be happy and whole, we have to be happy too. We need to start taking care of ourselves, to start putting our needs in there too. Because we can’t be patient and kind, can’t be centered and present if we’re constantly on that edge of exhaustion. We’re gonna snap and yell and whatever.

Our needs matter too.

And for you introvert parents out there, who know exactly what I’m talking about, you have double-duty because society as a whole doesn’t understand us. They like the people who are constantly chatting and socializing, going out and all these grand adventures… well, that works for them and that’s fine. But it doesn’t work for us.

And it’s okay.

But all of us, truly, we need to be in tune with our kids and their energy. It’s really a juggling act, of checking in with ourselves, checking in with our kids and our spouses. Like how on the Saturday we saw our long-time friends, I made the choice to let Sean sleep in while I went to farmers market with the kids (which means I’ve got a wiggling Eric in my arms as I try to pay or stuff the food in the stroller). It’s stressful for me but I did it because I knew Sean’s needs were greater than mine… if we were to survive the day. I also did the driving (it’s also too stressful for him). But the second we got home? As soon as the kids were in bed?

Oh man I went to bed.

I checked out.

Cause that’s what I needed.

Being a parent is hard. Being an introverted parent is even more challenging. We need to monitor our energy levels and that of our kids. For those of you introverted parents with extroverted kids, those kids who thrive on all the outings and socializing, oh man do I really feel for you, and how you’ve really got to be aware of your own self-care. (Truly, you guys are amazing!)

All I’m trying to say here: is it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be a different kind of family because all of our needs our different.

We need to care for our kids, and we need to care for ourselves.

So if you find yourself getting hit with all those messages… that you’re not doing enough… that you’re not good enough… keep in mind, a lot of those messages are geared towards an extroverted world.

And guess what?

That’s not me. Or my family.

We do what work’s for us, what makes us happy and whole, and that means we can’t be wrong.

All we can do as parents, day in and day out, is our best. To simply try… and even if that means our world and our life look different than everyone else’s.

We try.

And then the next day, we try again.

The Language Burst: My Journey with Late-Talkers

 

When I first heard about this, these “language bursts,” it was from our speech pathologist (the person who coaches me with Kate and her language). The way she described these bursts was not, at all, scientific. In fact, as I’m learning on our own journey, this language thing sometimes isn’t scientific at all. (Probably because language lands completely in the domain of our kids, and if you haven’t looked around lately, each of our kids are completely and totally, different. Oh. And they each of their own way of doing things.)

So, I figured a language burst would be, you know, how it sounds.

Language. Burst.

Got that.

I was told that, “I’d know it when I saw it.”

And when Kate was gaining more trust in her words? My speech pathologist would shake her head and say, “Oh, no. She hasn’t hit her burst yet.”

Hmm. Well, okay then. Me, I was personally thrilled to hear Kate saying “up” and “more” and all the names of her My Little Ponies.

Turns out my speech pathologist was totally, totally right.

I had no clue, zero clue, what a language burst was.

Not until it happened.

Now, if you’re new on this journey with your own late-talkers (or any child who isn’t talking at the age marked as “appropriate” by your pediatrician), you’re not going to have any clue either, much like me, about what it is or even what it looks like.

Now again, every kid is different and your child’s experience probably won’t look like Kate’s (or maybe it will, or maybe there will be parts but not the whole). What I wanted to do here was simply share. Share our experience, share what this can look like, and hopefully, provide a twinge of hope for those parents out there who are patiently, and longing, for this same moment with your own kids.

When I first spoke with our speech pathologist, Mary Camarata, Kate had just turned three and said only a few functional words (meaning words she said all the time). I mean, we’re talking about “no” and “baby” and that’s about it. And like every parent, I was anxious to know when Kate would start talking, but at the same time, I was also different.

I had finally found my center, my grounding if you will, and I was okay waiting for Kate. I didn’t need to know when. I didn’t need to know when she’d “normalize.”

And when Mary told me that Kate probably wouldn’t talk until she was four, or four and a half, I was fine with it. I trusted in Kate, I trusted in myself.

But, to keep up my spirits, to show our growth, for me and Kate together, I kept a journal. Sure, I wrote the words she would say (and then would “tuck away”), but I also recorded experiences… how she would respond, physically, if I asked something of her. Or if she allowed another mom to put on her jacket while I was busy with Eric. Her trust and comfort in others was just a big a step as a new word was.

I kept my journal and the words, as Kate reached three and a half, slowly ticked upwards.

For Kate and her temperament, her trust, her mastery in all things, is huge. If she is not confident that she can nail something with 100% accuracy (think learning to talk here), she gets extreme anxiety and will not do it. The idea of not doing something perfect, or a word sounding perfect, caused such anxiety that she didn’t even want to try.

The first time I heard the word “water” was on a nature Friday. We were coming back from a hike, near the ocean, and she said, “water.”

I’m not sure if she referred to the water bottle in the backpack or the ocean, but there it was: water. (Actually it sounded like wa-dee.)

Just imagine Kate slowly dipping her toes into this giant ocean of words.

As she gained confidence, she’d put her toes in a little deeper, and then would draw it back. She’d say, “pu” for the word, “push” (to get pushed more on the swings). She repeated “step” when I told Eric to “step” into the pool.

The first time she said, “mom?”

It was a whisper.

And then she’d sheepishly look at me and close her mouth up tight.

Kate would say, “daddy” when she wanted daddy to play with her. She started vocalizing at the park with her close friends who she trusted. She would say, “yippee” and “hi.” She would say “bop” for “stop.”

When Kate held out a ball to me, she said, “ba.”

I would say, “that’s right. Ball.”

“Ba,” she said again.

This was how it started. Little tiny steps forward. Her little toe slowly going deeper, and then pulling back away. And I was nothing but patient and kind and comforting. I knew what she needed from me. She needed to try the words, and she needed to trust that saying them incorrectly was okay.

Fast forward to her birthday. Kate turned four.

It was the first time I clearly heard the most beautiful word ever: Mom.

While we were playing on my bed with Grandma over, Kate said to me: “Hi…… Hi…. Mom.”

She wanted to play with me and not my mom.

And she told me that.

Then it only got faster from there. At her birthday party, when the other kids were playing and running together, Kate learned another phrase: “Ready, set, go!”

At the park, when I told Kate it was time to leave and said to her, “we’re going now.”

She repeated, “going” (and in front of her friends).

I had an update call with Mary. She loved that Kate was making more words attempts more often, that they were sometimes hard to understand though I clearly could. She told me I would see Kate vocalizing more and more, that her phonology (the speech sounds themselves) were still immature and her feelings of insecurity were still huge (it was why she was using the word “no” so much).

Mary told me to wait a little longer, that we would know between four and a half, five years, for Kate to decide to say words.

Me? Heck, I was ecstatic with the words I was hearing. Kate could take until five; I didn’t care because I loved the progress we were seeing. I loved the confidence and trust I was seeing in Kate. It didn’t matter how long it would take us to get there, we would get there. I could sense that Kate had specific words in her mind, words that she was trying to say and willing to say.

Turns out, she only needed a few more months before the words really started coming.

I added more and more to my journal. Listing the words out every day. We met with Mary in person, for the first time, at the end of September and while I was thrilled with where we were, we still hadn’t hit Kate language burst.

Not until October did it start, and it felt like an explosion.

Every day, more words. Every day, she was repeating words I’d said (something she’d never done before). Every day she growing more confident and comfortable. At the pool she would say to her friends, “help me,” and they would help her put on the goggles. I was no where near this exchange; she said these words to her friends, and them alone.

She hadn’t needed my support, or my just being near, to trust the words.

Every week it felt like she said more and more words to my mom friends, and adults in general (the people she’s shyer and more cautious around).

Her words have grown to the point where my journal only records new and notable moments. There are simply so many words that it’s impossible for me to write them all down. We have moments with each other, speech play that is happening every moment she’s awake. Every interaction is filled with words, filled with her trying to convey to me her wants and needs. And if I try to understand and say the word she hadn’t meant? She says no and tries again.

She tries again, even though the words weren’t perfect or understandable the first time. She tries again.

Imagine this giant crashing wave.

Or, to go back to my earlier swimming analogy, Kate has full-on, cannon-balled into that water.

It started small and tentative, then picked up speed, and yet still our speech pathologist had said: not yet.

Well, I get it now.

I really, really do.

Kate took the words she had and put them together into phrases, and now, into sentences. I about fell out my chair when she first said, “May I have iPad now?

I mean, there’s grammar in there too. There’s an understanding that she is the “I” person. And there’s also the fact that she’s using manners, which I never purposefully set out to teach her.

And with that sentence she used? Insert another word, like “phone” or “hot dog” or “chocolate.”

She’s using some “w” words (think “where” and “what”). “W” words are in general harder because they have this almost abstract concept to them. Yet, she’s learning them.

The other day she said, “Baby, where he go? Baby!”

Or, “What do here, Mommy?”

And now, at this moment in time, March, 2017, Kate is still in the middle of this explosion. She has an explosion of sentences, is adding more and more familiar words to what she already has.

For example, she might have started with the word “help.”

This changed to, “help me.”

Then, “Help me, Mommy.”

To…

“I need help.”

As well as…

“Can you help me, Mommy?”

Look at all those different ways she is asking for help. All the different sentences she’s put together that mean the exact same thing: she needs help.

She even went to the pool and when she realized none of her friends were waiting outside, said to me, “Where Kyla go?”

A friend’s name.

In a sentence.

Can you imagine the absolute joy I felt? The pride I felt for her that we have come to this moment in time?

Or when she held her toothbrush to me and said, “May I have some more?” (She was referring to toothpaste.)

Or, when she was looking for me in the house (and couldn’t find me) said: “Where did you go, Mommy?”

Her journey with language started so small. It started with her being afraid to trust in her words, and slowly, trusted in me (after our false start with Early Intervention and then speech therapy). And it’s not just about her spoken words either. It’s also about her understanding words, that’s as (if not more) important. Her receptive language has leapt forward.

When we were at the pool walking home, she had a towel on. She said, “fly.”

I asked her, “Do you want to fly?”

She nodded her head, so I told her, hold out your towel and pretend you’re flying!

And she did.

Not only did she run with her arms spread out, towel flapping behind her, but she had understood me. I spoke in a way that was more complex, that this word “pretend” wasn’t one that she could visually picture in her mind to know what I’d meant. And yet, she had still understood.

This is what Kate’s language burst has looked like.

It’s a wave that we could see coming, slowly at first, then faster and faster. When it hit I barely registered because we were already in the middle of it. All I knew, is that we were there.

She was there.

And every week, parents who have known for years, many who see her every week are constantly telling me how they can’t believe it. I can see their shocked expressions when Kate communicates, with words, what her needs are. And she’s communicating it to them. Not to me.

What shocks people even more is when they comment on how far she’s come in a year, and I shake my head and say, “No. This is how far she’s come in just five months.”

And that, folks, is what a language burst looks like.

Okay, maybe not all, but definitely Kate’s. Language bursts usually come in waves, and when you’re riding one, they can last for months. Mary had said Kate’s would last from about eight months to a year, but she was betting that for Kate, she would ride it for a year.

I completely agree with her. It doesn’t feel like these words are stopping anytime soon.

I hope they don’t.

In fact, yesterday after a park day where she played with kids ranging from 14 months old to 12 years, I put her in the car and she asked me, “Can I have the keys now, Mommy?”

I blinked. “Yes, you can have the keys.”

She took them. “Thank you, Mommy, bye!”

A friend, who was standing beside me and who has watched Kate grow in language for two years now, was absolutely shocked (especially about the use of “thank you” — which to be honest, still shocks me every time I hear it).

This has been quite the ride and every day I smile in such joy at how far Kate’s come, at how we all came to this place, to this moment in time, because we chose trust.

We chose to trust in her to tell us what she needed.

We chose to trust that we, as parents, knew better than anyone else how to help her. And this, really, has been as much a victory for us as it has been for her. But the true joy I feel is actually much simpler:

I finally get to hear the beautiful sound of my little girl’s voice.

My Second Journey with a Late-Talker

 

That’s right. I don’t just have one but two late-talkers.

Talk about a roll of the dice, right?

Now, to be honest, this isn’t an easy thing for me to write about. I’m sure those of you who’ve read my blog for awhile have picked up on the fact that I don’t talk about Eric and his language a whole lot. And there’s a good reason for it, and I’m gonna try and describe it as a fiction writer.

When I come up with some new story idea, or some new character or world, I never talk about it. With anyone. And the reason for that is simple:

My subconscious is playing with this idea, it’s creating a story that’s completely my own. I don’t want anyone else’s input. I don’t want to know what they think would be cool or neat, because that could either come in and taint my slowly bubbling story or… it’ll piss off my inner-storyteller, which will straight up shut the whole thing down.

I protect these developing stories. I protect all of my work-in-progresses. At this point, I don’t want anyone’s input. At least, not until it’s finished.

Now switching back to Eric.

I haven’t talked much about him, with the exception of teething and poop complaints, certainly not about his speech, because Eric has been that developing story. I wanted him to have a blank page for as long as possible, a chance to grow and be who he is, without anyone adding in their two-cents or judgments. And not that those people could affect him, but they could affect me and my thoughts.

Now I’m going to slide right in and say quickly (before people jump in and call me an irresponsible parent): both our pediatrician and our speech pathologist, Mary Camarata, were involved and right there with us in regards to Eric. They’ve also been onboard with our choice to wait and support Eric, in the best way we could. I have been working with Eric, to help build the foundations he needs for language, for a good six months now, doing what little toddlers love most: physical play with momma.

One reason I’m very sensitive to this stage, this movement from babyhood to toddler to little boy, is because I remember, very clearly, the dark, scary black hole I was in when Kate was this age (and honestly, she was even a little older). It was that moment where we recognized she wasn’t “normal” with her language and understanding of it… yet, what they were saying about her was so very, very wrong. We know it, as parents. That they were only seeing a small side of who she was and we were already being shoved and pushed in a direction we weren’t okay with. And let’s not forget how those people would look at us, her parents, and how I could feel their judgment. We were the ones in denial. We were the ones who were wrong about Kate.

Even now just thinking this is enough to make my skin crawl and for tears to come to my eyes. No parent should ever have those said about their child. Ever. Certainly not when the parent believes, with her whole heart, that those people were wrong, that her daughter was a healthy and whole person, but just different.

A different way of learning.

A different way of living.

A different way of being living with the world.

So, I kept quiet about Eric. To the moms and friends we saw regularly I would tell them, “I don’t know if he’s going to be a late-talker or not. We’ll wait and see.”

And each one of them accepted that.

Frankly, I think they understood that I sure knew a heck of a lot more about kids and talking, and they completely trusted in me and decisions about Eric.

They believed in us.

Not to mention, all you have to do is look at Kate now, compared to a year ago, and I’ve got walking, talking proof that what we’re doing is working for us. And we’re committed to seeing this through. We’re committed to being engaged, to following our children’s lead especially when it doesn’t follow the traditional styles of most therapist. (For example, if your child isn’t an imitator naturally, don’t be shocked when that child doesn’t follow along when said therapist tries to get them to say, “more,” or heck, even form that m sound with the mouth upon command. And with my two kids? Sorry. Not gonna happen.)

Up until now, Eric was still fitting into the normal range for speech development. Especially for a boy and a second child. Even with the few words he had (when he deemed he wanted to even say them), he was still hitting that range.

And we were just fine to give him that time, with no pressure. After all, we knew from experience that pressure and worrying and living with fear didn’t work with Kate, there was certainly not reason to start with Eric. Especially for as young as he was.

You see, I know of many parents whose young children, from as young as fourteen months, are already in speech therapy. This is not to say these children shouldn’t be in therapy or that that therapy wouldn’t help them. I’m certainly not qualified to say that, and I’m certainly not qualified to say that about your child. What gets me, personally, is I often hear a child is in therapy because they aren’t talking yet. There’s not some straight-up medical reason or an actual defined need for the therapy. And I’m also not saying the parents aren’t wrong for choosing this, or the medical professionals. They’re concerned. They don’t know what’s going on. Heck, we did private speech therapy with Kate for six months before realizing, in her case, it was just throwing money down the drain. Because every family is different. Every child is different.

But… to be honest… it breaks my heart that speech therapy, for simply not yet talking, is being pushed on kids so young. To me, this feels wrong. (Again, those are my feelings and no judgment is made on anyone who chooses differently. For me, this feels like another piece of our culture, this pushing to be like everyone else, to all fit in the same box, that I’m disappointed in.)

What happened to just letting kids grow at their own pace and develop? What happened to just letting them follow their own path?

Well, Sean and I have a therapy about this, about getting kids ready for school at earlier and earlier ages, to the point that if you’ve got a two-year-old the next question usually is: when are they going to start preschool? But that’s really not the post I’m writing today. What I want to say here is that almost weekly, I’m meeting someone (or a family member or a friend has), who, while just going about their day, meets another who’s grandchild or who’s own child, is a late-talker. A child who, 30 years ago, didn’t start talking until he was four or five. My mother-in-law just told me this story yesterday at the bank, when she met two people who had late-talkers. Two. One who’s daughter was only three, and another older lady who’s son was 20+ years.

These kiddos are a lot more in number than we know, a lot more too (for whatever reason) than the medical community is letting us in on. Maybe because it’s easy to forget that struggle, that waiting and wondering, for those handful of early years. Maybe it’s a relief too, on the behalf of parents, to simply forget this phase and move on when the kids finally do start talking.

But know: you are not alone.

And neither is your kid. Really.

Eric literally just turned two, and if you haven’t gathered yet, both Sean and I have resolved to trust in our kids. To give them time.

We did that. Even when Eric started hitting his age milestones with no words (or a sporadic one or two), we choose to give him time. To not rush or worry or push.

Oh we helped him. We played physical games and focused on his visual referencing with us to continue those games and oh my, the growth for that alone compared to when we first started is amazing. It’s also another reason of why I’m not worried. Because this is one of those important little pieces that needs to be in place before language can ever happen.

It’s there.

Eric needs to care what I think (which is why he’ll look up when he sees or does something fun or cool). He needs to look at me because I’m the reason those blankets go super-fast on the floor while he gets the coolest ride ever.

Language, truly, is invisible, at least the acquiring of it. There are so many little pieces that need to be there, things that you never notice as a parent because it’s just a natural flow between parent and child. You notice when they aren’t there because things feel different and silted, that they simply don’t feel right. I can happily say that all those things are there for Eric.

Supposedly there’s a 1 and 10 chance that Eric would be a late-talker like his sister, but when I mentioned this to Sean he kind of snorted and said, “I think it’s a lot higher than that. We’re still the same parents.”

And our kids came from us.

(And if you know us, having two kids who don’t think talking is super important isn’t a huge surprise.)

But still, we now know for sure that Eric’s phonological sounds are immature for his age. He’s not as precise and articulate with his sounds, and of course, his expressive is also delayed (this is the actually ‘talking’ part of language and since he’s not talking yet, it’s no surprise that he falls into this category). Keep in mind too, that Mary Camarata waited until he was two before even making this call. She was completely comfortable giving him the time and as she said to me on more than one occasion, “You’re already doing everything you can.”

I was.

I still am.

And… Mary’s prognosis is not surprising to me either. I mean, I’ve watched other boys near Eric’s age, I can hear how they talk and respond to their moms (or me, for that matter). They’re understanding of language… it’s different than Eric’s. I can recognize that, and I’m sure some people are jumping out of their seats demanding to why I haven’t gotten him “help.” (See my mention earlier: I was already doing everything I could without pushing or demanding).

Here’s the real funny part: from when Eric was a baby Sean and I weren’t concerned about his talking. Nope. Not a bit. It wasn’t until he was about… 14-15 months that we started to notice some changes, that he went from babbling like crazy, to a quieter child.

Why weren’t we worried?

Well, as a baby, he’d babbled more at four months than Kate had her whole life. Opening his mouth and making sound come out was not his problem. In fact, Eric’s been right there the whole time on Kate’s journey. When we did have private speech therapy, more often than not, Eric was right there during the sessions. The therapist got to see and hear Eric. There was no flags or concerns. Nothing. Even Mary Camarata got to hear and see Eric in the videos with Kate for a year.

But as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten quieter. And it wasn’t like he’d never said a word (his first word was “hi” and then, “this,” and then “what’s this”) but like Kate, those words sort of… went away.

He stopped using them.

We don’t know why Eric stopped making his sounds. We don’t know why he focused less attention on language because we can’t get a crystal ball to peer into his little mind. It’s possible he focused on visual learning at some point and only recently has he started thinking about sounds. But we do know that he’s very similar to Kate, that there’s this piece missing… this trust in language. He’s hesitant to make the sounds.

And truly, he is so very blessed to have us are parents. Because we get him. We’ve been down this road with Kate. We know what to do. We know how to help him. We know, better than anyone, that the most important thing is for him to feel comfortable with language and sounds.

To trust in language.

To trust in us.

Now, my two kids are still very different. They have very different personalities, but I’m pretty darn hopeful and confident. All I have to do is watch a video from Kate a year ago, when she was barely saying anything, to today when she holds out her hand and says, “Give me high five!” (I’ll add to… I did not teach this to her. It was a dear friend who did.)

Heck, she’s even going up to kids at playgrounds and saying, “Hi! Hi! What do here?”

That is a great deal of trust in language, know what I’m saying?

Our goal with Kate was to teach her that language was safe. That she was safe when she did choose to make sounds and open her mouth.

So yeah, I’ve got another road ahead of me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a little disappointed because, well, having a child with a language delay is no cake-walk and it sure would have been nice if one of my kids fell into that “normal” developing category.

But they didn’t.

And that’s okay. I know what to do. I’ve got the help and support behind us. I know I won’t be falling into that scary black-hole of fear and depression this time around. It’s going to be a lot of work, heck, it’s still a lot of work with Kate, but we’re in a really good place.

I’m still sensitive to Eric and his developing little pace, especially since because there’s still a whole lot up in the air with him. Again, he’s just too young to do any kind of testing, even nonverbal testing. He’s also crazy stubborn. So… if someone out there is reading this and you feel the need to start giving me your opinions or judgments or what you think of Eric.

Yeah.

Don’t want to hear it.

All I want to hear, all I want to focus on, is Eric’s thoughts on Eric.

It’s going to be a different journey than Kate because he’s Eric. Heck, even Mary made the comment that those cute Calico Critters, something that were a huge breakthrough for Kate, aren’t going to do it for him.

I’m going to listen, with my full heart and soul, to him. To who he is and how I can help him.

And that’s why I know we’ll be okay. That’s why, even if this is work (and it sure would have been nice to not worry about it with one of my kids), we’ll come out this better than okay. Because I’m willing to trust in Eric.

I’m willing to let him take me on his journey… his, and no one else’s.

 

Side note: One of my goals this year was to make this a weekly blog. I still may not be getting much sleep due to stupid teething (thanks, Eric) and I still may not be back to fiction writing, but I am writing these blogs. So check back every Thursday for a blog post about being a parent-writer or a parent of a late-talker, cause man do I got a lot to say about both these days!

And one day… dear lord I hope it’s soon… I’ll be sleeping again. Even a little bit. I’d totally take a little.

Another Kind of Box: My Journey with a Late-Talker

 

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So many people take one look at Kate or hear our story and make judgments. Assumptions. They guess as to what’s going on because of something they’d heard or read. This was also true (from our experience) even with medical professionals who only cared about following a checklist and marking the “red flags.”

And, not kidding, someone just recently asked me if I had fed Kate cow’s milk because that’s totally why she’s not talking.

I mean… seriously??

You’re literally not going to ask about this two year journey we’ve been on and you’re immediately going to jump to the conclusion that it was cow’s milk? (Not to mention that no, Kate doesn’t drink milk. We drink water in this house. And alcohol… for those of-age, anyway.)

But it’s that kind of blatant rudeness I’ve gotten as a parent. Since the day we started this journey, since it became slowly apparent that Kate’s speech was delayed compared to other children her age, I’ve felt other people’s judgment and rudeness. The farthest thing from kindness and love you could ever expect. And everyone was an expert on Kate.

They all knew what was wrong with her. They all had an opinion.

And no one actually gave a shit about what I thought. That, hey, maybe I actually know this child best since, you know, I’m only with her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But what the hell do I know?

Everyone discounted the feelings I knew in my gut, feelings that I knew through my entire being, that there was nothing “wrong” with Kate. She was who she was, and that was okay with me.

And yes, I can see how this blog is starting to feel like a rant, but hang in there… it’s not.

You see, both Sean and I were okay allowing Kate to take her time, to help her and guide her, to try different avenues for her to grow into talking in a way that was comfortable and safe… for her. We tried Early Intervention and private speech therapy, and they both were not the right fit for Kate. We tried at-home play with me, while I got coaching and guidance from a very knowledge person on late-talkers, and it turned out to be the perfect fit.

But so many, many people wanted to fit Kate into a box.

They wanted their idea of her to fit into their box with its clean edges and following the right kind of pattern. And because she didn’t talk and had anxiety around adults she didn’t know, oh… well! Let’s just go and check off six boxes from the checklist right there and call this a done deal.

If you couldn’t tell, this was a difficult journey for me. It felt like Sean and I were the only ones standing on this hill and fighting off the naysayers and doubters with only a stick. To me, the stick felt tiny. To small for what we were facing down. But now… now, I know that’s not true, especially if I look at it from Kate’s point of view.

As her parents, with our Big and Mighty Parent Stick.

Standing in the way of each of those people and telling them no.

No, you’re wrong about her.

No, you don’t know.

But we do.

We’re her parents.

And to be honest, every time I heard someone else’s opinions or thoughts or judgments, I had to spend a great deal of time and energy flushing them right back out of my system. In fact, I still do (as evidenced by someone’s stupid-ass cow’s milk comment).

You see, Kate needs me whole and present. She needs me focused on her, with all my love and trust, on her. Not filled with other people’s opinions.

I recently had to tell a friend this. A friend who I was quite close with for many years, but that I couldn’t have her judgments and opinions in my life right now. I was fine with questions, please, please ask me questions, I want to talk about Kate, I want to spread the message that kids are different. But I told this friend, if she couldn’t just be supportive and loving, that I was sorry. I couldn’t have her in our lives right now.

I haven’t heard from her since.

But this is the way I’ve learned to protect myself. To protect the part of me that plays and cherishes Kate, that part that believes in her, completely and fully. Sean, though, I swear he’s got this will of steel because he never has a problem telling people to fuck off (which I greatly envy).

You see, there were days, especially early in this journey, where I did go on Google, hoping for some little window, some glimmer of hope to shove away some off-handed, insensitive comment a parent had made to me. But all I found was one devastating article after another, each one telling me, in their own way, that I was wrong. That late-talking children almost always meant autism and it was very serious and you better seek professional help. Immediately.

Each one of those people looked at our children as if they all fit in one box.

Well, you know something?

They don’t.

My little girl, just over four years old at this point, is living proof of someone who went and created her own box and that’s why I’m writing this blog post. I want to show everyone what a different box can look like. I want to share who Kate is, to share the journey we’re on with her, and just maybe, a beacon for another parent somewhere down the road who’s afraid and desperate and just wants to know that yes, there are other answers. That yes, children can be different.

Unique.

Because, they are.

Completely differently. Whether they’re square boxes or circles or triangles. Whether their box is pink or a jungle green. Whether the child is so full of life and energy that they just straight up don’t belong in any kind of box.

And this is just one child’s story of being different.

For two years, I had only what I believed in, what was in my heart, to guide me. I didn’t have these answers. I didn’t even know about children being natural late-talkers. My pediatrician never mentioned it. Or Early Intervention. Or the neurologist. Not even Google.

I found the explanation in a book by Thomas Sowell, which lead to me Stephen Camarata, and eventually a Facebook group of hundreds (if not thousands) of other parents of late-talkers. And from there, I found Mary Camarata who was finally able to give me answers. But in truth, a lot of it was Kate just needing time. And love.

Time to grow and mature.

Time to feel safe and comfortable with trying to talk.

As Mary Camarata recently told me, “Kate can talk.”

It’s not a matter of her ‘not being able to talk’ but a matter of her feeling incredibly anxious and uncomfortable because the words did not sound right. They did not come out sounding perfect. And that, ultimately, is Kate’s biggest issue: her temperament.

Kate is the kind of child who, if she is not completely 100% sure of something, she will not do it. If she cannot be precise and accurate and perfect, it is incredibly stressful for her. We’re talking super high levels of stress.

She does not like giving away her control, like an adult family member suddenly showing up to join us at Disneyland. She has no say in that. She has no control over their presence. So no, she’s not going to smile at them and wave like a ‘normal’ child would. Nope. Instead, she’s going to bury her head and hide.

Or, as I realized what happened on Halloween, she’s going to cry in my arms for an hour. She didn’t have time to grow comfortable with their presence and were instead, in her mind, thrust onto her. And she had no words to express this incredibly overwhelming feel of stress and feeling unsafe.

But back to the talking aspect and Kate’s temperament… when you try something new, for the first time, it’s not perfect. Language, and to speak, requires practice. It doesn’t come out sounding right, and it’s not supposed to. Again, this takes practice. But what about a child like Kate? Someone who feels this incredible amount of stress when it’s not accurate?

Well, she just doesn’t do it.

At least, not until she feels safe and comfortable. It’s like this invisible line that she’s been putting her toe over, and then back again for the past year. Little, tinsy, tiny steps before quickly pulling herself back to safety on the silent side of the line.

And if you try to push a child like Kate? Try to use prompt or withholding techniques that some speech therapists do? Oh forget it. Kate will dig her heels in harder and Will Not Talk.

There is no forcing this kid.

Zero.

All we can do is support and love and tease out that wonderful little smile of hers and tell everyone else to go fuck off. We got the support from an expert, to guide me on where we need to go next, but you better believe that I’ve stuck to my guns even with her and told her no at times. Because I know Kate. I am so in tune with her I know when she’s being pushed too far and what will (and won’t) work.

But having this little piece of Kate’s puzzle, knowing that her temperament and the anxiety she feels when not in control, has been huge for us. It’s answered so many questions, like on Halloween when she was so upset she couldn’t talk or even nod her head yes to go home.

But if you’re someone new, a doctor or neurologist, in this unwelcoming examine room, suddenly directing this particular child, who to her, control is everything, and almost demands that she do only what they want and at that second they ask for it? Yeah, you can guess Kate’s test scores aren’t going to look well. In fact, they’re going to be dead-wrong about her simply because she’s refusing to participate (or even look at the person doing the test, or heck, even look up when I call her name).

Again, this a story of a child who doesn’t fit in any box.

She’s instead made her own.

Kate’s biggest issue is one of behavior. The anxiety she feels rivals those of someone with selective mutism, but Kate doesn’t have that (that would require her to talk in one setting, just fine, and then not in others… Kate just doesn’t talk much, even at home).

Now, we do know that Kate has a receptive delay. The language she hears, and understands, falls below even the low range for a four-year-old. But because she’s very bright, because she can hear words she knows, and gestures and context, she can piece together our sentences and figure out what we’re asking. But… if the sentences get too long or if we’re throwing two and three verbs in a sentence? Kate will just shut it down. Her anxiety will peak up and she’ll tune us out. She knows she has pieces of the sentence missing and that makes her uncomfortable.

It’s no surprise to Sean and me that Kate has MERLD, which means, Mixed Expressive Receptive Language Disorder. It means she’s got a delay in the talking, and the understanding, of language. And because she doesn’t have language yet, the social part of a normal developing four-year-old is also behind. She can’t have normal, meaningful relationships because she doesn’t have words. So, Mary Camarata also diagnosed her with Social Communication Disorder.

Again, neither of those two were surprises and that alone tells you right there, that it’s right. It doesn’t make me want to go and brandish my big stick and starting knocking people’s heads. Because everything Mary said about Kate, fit with who she was. Everything aligned with what I’d always known as her mother… even though so many people didn’t want to believe me.

And at this point, I don’t care about those other people.

Well… I still do.

It still cuts me and hurts me to have a friend not reach out and try to reconnect after I was open and honest about my feelings. It pisses me off when some person I don’t even know comes to me with her cow’s milk bullshit. But it’s a lot easier for me to move on. It’s easier to shrug those feelings off my shoulders and out of my life. Because they don’t matter. Only Kate and her progress matters.

And that’s the true joy I’m feeling these days. For two years, I’ve had to go on faith and belief in Kate, but now I have answers. And more than that, I have Kate finally feeling comfortable.

She’s talking.

Not a lot, certainly not compared to most kids, but when I say to her, “tell me,” she does.

She will say, “more.”

Or, “ice cream.”

She will say, “all done” or “help me.”

Or she’ll go and bust out a whole new phrase like, “let’s go home” or “I’m gonna get you.”

We are at the point where she’s saying words in front of other mothers and their kids, and these mothers are coming to me with a look of amazement and excitement on their faces. These are the people I’ve chosen to surround myself with. People who are supportive and cheering Kate on. People who’ve been asking for this blog post because they want to know what we learned from our evaluation with Mary Camarata.

I learned so very much.

But at the same time, everything I learned, I already knew. I’d just known it as a mother and not in words that will make our doctors happy and content to let us carry on at our own pace.

This is a story of just one child and the little box she went and made for herself, and hopefully to other parents out there, as a sign of hope that there actually is a lot more going on with our children. It’s not just some cut-and-dry answer and really, we’re not even going to know what that box looks like until they deem it the right to time to even show us (which often correlates to time and maturity).

That was the one thing Mary Camarata told me. Right now, Kate just needs time. She needs time to play and have fun. To continue to grow and trust in her words.

In her own little box.

No one else’s, but hers.

The Gift of Time: My Journey with a Late-Talker

 

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Today, I finally have concrete answers about Kate and her unique journey with language. Today, I have the words to describe to medical professionals when they ask about her and her not talking. Big medical words that you need to Google to understand what they mean. But honestly, I always had these answers.

They weren’t factual and they weren’t what the doctors wanted to hear. But as a mother, I always knew who she was.

Always.

And I trusted in that.

I thought I would have some big moment of relief, after finally meeting with our Speech Language Pathologist (and an expert on late-talkers) and getting the diagnosis that would tell the rest of the medical community to take a chill-pill and leave my little girl alone to do her thing. But you know something? There wasn’t this huge relief. It was just me and my understanding and this sudden voice in my head that said:

“Yeah. I knew that.”

That was all.

After all this time, almost two years of worrying and fear, and then eventually acceptance, that was all I felt.

Because I did know.

Right from the beginning. I knew who Kate was. Intuitively. As her mother.

In fact, both my husband and I knew. And when we first told our pediatrician that she had a clear language delay (at age 2 1/2), we were really just looking for someone to help Kate in a way that she needed. We went into this knowing her language wasn’t where it should be, and we wanted to help her.

We had no desire — none — to change her.

But… not everyone we met felt that way. I think that was the biggest shock of all. What they wanted, from our pediatrician to our early intervention center (based on our personal experience, mind you), was they wanted Kate to fit into this one mold.

One box.

Theirs.

But that’s not Kate. It never was. We knew that the test Early Intervention gave her was wrong. Completely and totally wrong. That it didn’t, in anyway shape or form, show who Kate was. How did we know? Well… her dad and I are introverts. Pretty big ones. And Kate? Oh, my… she’s a super-introvert. And she’s incredibly willful. And if she senses that you’re some person who wants to control her, to make her do things, or heck, just doesn’t like kids (and yes, that was the person we had doing the evaluation), she will just shut down. She will not engage. She will not respond. Nothing. Not even to me.

We won’t even talk about how this test is completely language-heavy and for a child who doesn’t understand language, you can guess how poorly she scored. But was it accurate? Did it give an accurate assessment of her?

No.

And… while I completely and truly believe this test was not accurate for Kate, part of me can understand even where the evaluators are coming from. They see a child will not look at them or listen, who’s not even responding to her name. And they’re only with her for what… an hour? Two?

What they saw was her massive discomfort, her anxiety. She was uncomfortable and this was the way she protected herself.

That’s who Kate is, but it’s not what that evaluation revealed.

Instead, from that moment on, that first start of our journey, it felt like I was fighting off everyone’s judgments and preconceptions with a big giant stick. Family members. Close friends. People who talked about “speech therapy” like it was this magic pill and so long as your child was in “speech therapy” they would start talking. Then there was our pediatrician who refused to listen to me, refused to even consider what I had discovered, that there are kids who talk late and that it didn’t automatically mean autism.

The pediatrician refused to acknowledge what I knew as Kate’s mother. She wouldn’t listen to me.

So, I fired her.

Kate was only two years and seven months at the time. Eric was… four months old. Did you know that I don’t remember much from that time? That there are at least three or four months where my memory is just missing?

I was so afraid. So scared.

In my heart, I knew the truth. I saw this happy, smiling girl who socialized with me, who looked at me and played, and I never once had this sense that something was off or wrong.

But no one was listening.

Not to me.

What did I know? I’m only a mother.

Everyone was making these assumptions about my very introverted, willful child who would not cooperate with their tests, and everything they said about her was wrong.

And they wouldn’t listen.

For me in particular, you don’t need to say anything at all. You have your thoughts and opinions, and even though you may never say these to my face, it doesn’t matter. I know what they are. I can literally feel the judgment. I can feel the negativity, that belief that I’m in denial, that I don’t know what’s really going on because I am just a mother.

I am an empath.

All those negative emotions and feelings, I literally take them inside me. And I can’t get them out. Not easily, anyway. Compound that with my own fears… my own beliefs and intuition, which were telling me something so very different than these medical professionals I had been raised to believe in and respect… but they were wrong. But they were all saying I was wrong.

Sean and I made choices, then.

For us, for this particular little girl, we immediately said no to Early Intervention. Then, we chose to skip the therapy through our insurance (who we would have no choice about who we got or even what kind of style therapy they decided to use). We paid out of pocket for private therapy. To have someone come to our house, a place that Kate was comfortable and safe, and work with her.

Kate enjoyed therapy. She enjoyed playing with the therapist.

But she still refused to talk.

She even refused to turn her voice on.

So, we made another choice. We decided to go it alone, or mostly alone. We hired a consultant to coach me and that I would work with Kate. And because we did that, because this so-called ‘therapy’ happened every day, all hours of the day, the words started coming.

Slowly.

Very, very slowly.

And all Kate really needed was the right kind of support, the chance to learn to trust her words, to move past the anxiety she felt when the words and sounds didn’t come out mastered and perfect. But really, the most important gift we could give her, was time.

Time.

And really, is that so hard? Is that so hard to give our children?

Yes, I understand early intervention can be a very good thing. The speech therapy and the occupational therapy. Especially for the right child. But this idea that, as parents, it feels like we’re constantly being thrown at, is that this is the only way for all children?

I’m sorry, but no.

You’re wrong.

Sometimes our kids just need time to develop. They’re not all working on the same clock. Their brains aren’t wired the same. Some are extroverts. Some are introverts. Some children can be pushed a little to do as their told. That would be my Eric. I can tell him, “throw this in the trash,” and he will.

Kate?

The look she gives me pretty much says, “Hell no. You do it.”

Two different children and they both came from my husband and I, and yet, they couldn’t be more different.

Eric is almost 22 months old and if we were still going to our old pediatrician, you’d better believe she’d already be pushing me to have him see the neurologist. And the audiologist. And going to speech therapy (and I’m sure one of those guys would be pushing occupational therapy too because, well, why not? More bang for the buck, right?). And all this because this pediatrician actually believes there’s something wrong? Some visible sign or concern?

Nope.

It’s because he’s only got 3-4 words and he’s not fitting into her time table. Her checklist of ‘normal.’

Eric he’s says words, but only when he wants to.

I’m not concerned at all. My intuition is completely at ease and peace with him. I’m not afraid. And it helps too after meeting with our speech pathologist and she also saw Eric firsthand, and told me he’s fine. That she’s not worried about him at all (not to mention that everything I could do to help him with language, I’m already doing it anyway… you see, working with Kate has already trained me on how to work with Eric). As a side note: our new pediatrician is not concerned yet either. He’s of the old-school style where you only do all these extra tests and experts if he feels there’s a real need. So far, he doesn’t and he’s letting Eric grow.

But the other part of this I want to address, the other part other than please, please just give our children the time they need to grow and develop in their own little ways is this:

What about us?

What about the parents?

Do you, who do the evaluations, with your cold words and opinions, often not even giving real diagnoses, did you ever once consider that what you are saying is actually damaging?

To us.

The parents.

Again, I want to be clear here: I’m not saying all early intervention is bad or all evaluators are bad. I’m asking to give these kids more time before you slap labels on them (including children who are even younger than Eric, who’s only 22 months!). What you’re doing is putting fears into parents’ hearts. Again, this isn’t saying they’re all evil, I’m just writing from my experience and the experience of so many parents I know who have children that don’t fit into any one mold.

These are children who break molds.

Just like my Kate.

Think about it, though.

I am my children’s voice. Their support. Their love. I am their world. And standing there and comparing a child, at 2 1/2, that she’s equivalent in some areas to a 9-month-old baby? Do you honestly think that’s okay? That these sudden and very real fears that you are putting in me is okay? That your frightening opinion of what the future might look like for our children… do you really believe that’s okay? That this is helpful?

Sorry. But no.

No.

Those fears you are instilling in us, they are robbing us of our children’s childhood. That beautiful, wonderful exploration of toddlerhood becomes a serious of questions and red flags. And this fear, it is a very, very real thing especially when, as parents, all we want is to keep our children safe and protected and loved. But we can’t know what the future will look like, certainly not in kids these young.

They need time to grow.

They need time to mature.

To find who they are.

As parents, there’s not a whole lot we can do. It’s like this… year or two gap where we just don’t know. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know if our child truly is on the autism spectrum or if they’re just late-talkers with a language delay (expressive or receptive).

And meanwhile, there’s this very real living fear inside of us. It eats us away. It steals our hope and our joy, and each one of us on this journey has to find our way out of it.

No exception.

Then you have parents who’ve come out the other end of the tunnel, who’s children are older and well on their way to ‘normalizing’ with language like the rest of their peers, and their message is always the same: enjoy them.

Enjoy your children. Enjoy these young years.

You will never get that time back.

I had to do this too. I had to fight my way out of those fears, to a place of trust and acceptance, and just peace. And now that I finally have answers? Well, it’s great that I can now tell people who think they know more than me to shove it (some people will only listen if you’ve got a professional weighing in). But it also doesn’t change the fact that I’m where I am, inside, internally, because of the choices we had to make for our family.

Even now.

Our speech pathologist told me the greatest thing Kate needs now is time and that many, many people would be pushing her to do more than she’s comfortable with. To label her as something she’s not because they only see a tiny piece of who she is.

She told me I would have to protect Kate.

I told her I already was… but it’s not just about protecting Kate. It’s about protecting me.

I don’t want people’s negativity and judgments to touch me. If they do, I will feel it. Feel it like it’s a living thing inside of me. And guess what? Kate will sense it. She’ll know it.

Right now, she needs my love and support and just, trust. And I’m going to give it to her.

I’m going to protect ourselves, and Eric too. And I’m going to everything I can to keep Kate’s joyful smile right where it is. It’s a smile that tells me that I am doing everything, everything right.

Every single day.

That’s how I know I’m on the right path.

And… that I’m now hearing all these wonderful words?

Kate telling me “poo poo” when she needed to go to the bathroom at Disneyland.

Me asking Kate, “What should we do next?”

And she says: “Ice cream.”

That, that is huge for us. That’s huge for her.

Huge.

We’re in the midst of our first, mini, language burst and really, it’s my heart that’s bursting. It makes me want to cry with such joy because this, this right here is all the proof I needed. That all I needed to do was just trust in her.

Trust in myself.

You, as a parent, your journey is going to be so different from ours… but one thing is the same, and it’s our love for our kids. You want them to succeed. You want them to be who they will be, instead of forcing them to change and be something they’re not.

I will be writing another post soon about Kate and what we’ve learned. She not autistic, and in fact, her problem isn’t so much a language one, but a behavioral one (her temperament and the very real anxiety she feels when she doesn’t do something precise and accurate). Everything our speech pathologist said and diagnosed Kate with, resonated with me. It felt right. And yours, when you get the right information for your child, will feel right for you.

I want Kate’s information, I want her story, out there so there’s more knowledge about kids who don’t fit in any box or mold.

But this post, this one right here, is about us. As parents.

It’s about telling our whole society to please, please just give our kids more time to grow.

Give them whatever support it is that they need, and not one based on some evaluation or some opinion. Because each of these children will tell you, they will tell you exactly what they need, so long as we’re willing to listen.

I told my mother about our visit with the speech pathologist and how she told me that Kate did not, and could not, fit into any box.

My mother said, “I know. Kate is her own box.”

To her, Kate was always normal.

Kate was always, just Kate.

And you know, that’s the same way I’d always seen her. My Kate. Unique and different, and all her own. And already she’s taught me so very, very much.

About being a parent.

About myself.

And our journey has only just started, and I couldn’t be more blessed.

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The Dreaded Question… Socialization: My Journey with a Late-Talker

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The idea for this blog post first tickled me after I posted pictures from Kate’s 4th birthday party to a group of parents of late-talkers. I was surprised at the many comments I got… about Kate’s smile and how wonderful and happy she was playing with the other kids. As if… there was this mix of joy and shock that yes, this is possible for our kids.

The play with others.

In a way, it surprised me because Kate’s running and playing, her easily moving into this physical play of the park, that’s normal for me now. I sometimes forget to see that joy and wonder, of how far we’ve come and that this, this is where we are now. Our new normal.

But it wasn’t where we started.

And, if I’m really honest with myself (and I’m doing my best here), this very question, this concern, was on my mind from the very beginning.

What about socialization?

What about play and interacting with other kids when you don’t have words?

Okay. So maybe this wasn’t my first concern, at least not at the beginning because, up until around age 3, kids don’t need to be social. Not really. Actually, they’re actually pretty self-centered with their toys and food, and truthfully, their whole world is all about them! And that’s just the developmental phases they go through (I’m very, very much paraphrasing here my understanding from all the many books I’ve read). My point being, yes, get them out and playing around kids, and they might play with them. Or they might just sit down in the sand and play next to the other kids in the sand.

That parallel play is huge. It’s one of those super, itsy-bitsy steps to acquiring language, and it’s something that most other parents aren’t even aware of (or how important that side-by-side play is).

But then… something happens.

A shift, really.

At some point, I think when your kid hits three… when other kids start to look at your silent (or babbling) late-talker differently. They expect them to understand. They expect to get a response.

Suddenly, the park play of running up and down the slide, chasing back and forth, grows more complicated. There’s rules and ideas. They talk to your late-talker like they do with any other kid. And your late-talker…

Doesn’t understand.

Or if they do, they can’t respond.

It’s heart-breaking and scary to watch. You see those other, well-meaning kids, get frustrated or impatient or indifferent. They might not say something kind, or maybe they shrug and walk away.

In your heart, you know everything is fine with your child (well… if not fine it’s a progression that you know is right for your particular child… he or she will talk… when they’re good and ready). But still, you stand there, at a loss of what to do. Do you intervene? Do you become the voice for your child? Is this becoming a helicopter parent?

Or do you stand back and let kids figure it out?

Except… your child is only three or four or five and most kids haven’t learned (certainly not mastered) the tools to handle conflict well. So they do need some amount of guidance.

Oh. And your kid also can’t talk.

Not to mention all the advice everyone imparts on you on what you should do for your late-talking child, such as constantly talking to them about everything and doing it nonstop. (Seriously people? Are you telling me that when others do that to you, as a grown adult, that you don’t tune them out??) Or how about getting your kids around others their same age as that’s a great way to learn. Well… I’m not going to say no here. Again, I’m no expert, I’m just a parent. And sure there are kids who learn language better this way, every kid is different after all, but what I can tell you is what I’ve seen firsthand (and what my common sense has put together). The hardest time for Kate has been with kids her age or close to it.

And why’s that?

Because they don’t have the patience for her.

Which… makes sense. There still little kids themselves! They certainly don’t have the patience to sit there and wait while Kate figures out how to explain what she wants, with nonverbal cues. Or the patience while Kate puts together their words in her head, like a little puzzle, and figures out what they’re saying, so then she can react with her own response.

Oh. And let’s not forget another important fact here…

Kids around her age are still learning to talk themselves!

So when they’re sitting there, stringing words together, like a big sentence that never seems to stop, with more ‘the’s’ thrown in that a poor grammar checker could handle before exploding… that’s supposed to help my kid to talk?

And this advice, it comes from everyone.

And I do mean everyone.

Old lady pushing her cart of groceries behind you? Check. Mom out for a run who notices your kid doesn’t talk right? Check. Pediatrician who’s only looking at her checklist of ASD red-flags? Check.

And meanwhile, you’re scared.

Frightened, even.

And no one, not a single person with their lists and helpful advice they’d read on the internet in some study or heard from someone they know who’s also a speech therapist. And I suppose, that includes me here since I’m going to tell you about my journey with Kate.

But what I’m going for, hoping for, is to ease your mind as parents.

Yes, get yourself the best team to support your child (who’s different from mine). And that team goes from everyone to a loving spouse, grandparents, siblings, and a pediatrician who I truly hope is willing to listen to what *you* have to say and not just some checklist they’re reading off of. (You can probably guess that we ditched our first pediatrician and are looking for someone actually willing to be part of our team.) Build a team that fits for you and your family, and then… just provide opportunities for the socialization to grow.

For your child to play and have fun. With others.

I don’t see these as opportunities for my child to learn words from another, but… just the chance to play. Play in comfortable settings. Play that will allow for someone a little different than the normal child.

And that socialization we’re also so worried about?

Truly, it will happen.

Naturally.

In a natural way that will fit your child.

We are very fortunate that Kate is an easy-going child. We don’t have behavioral problems or tantrums (more than the normal, anyway), even with no language. She’s found a way to communicate and I’m in tune enough with her that this frustration, which can be quite common for late-talkers, isn’t really an issue. I say this all here as a disclaimer because regardless of what I tell you about our journey (and specifically, Kate’s) it will look different for you. This is especially true if you have a child who does have frustrations and who does have behavioral issues you’re working through. My hat is off to you parents and all I can say is keeping going at it. Keep your smile and love on and you’ll find your way, even if it’s slower or looks different than the rest of us. You are certainly not alone.

Now, when it comes to this socialization fear, I already had one leg up on the problem. Before we knew Kate was a late-talker, we’d decided to homeschool. Or I should say, I was very interested in the idea, especially looking back at my life, what I learned along the way, and where I ended up. Well, one of the first questions that jumped to my mind about homeschooling was socialization. I mean, that’s what I always heard about homeschooling. That socialization was the big, huge fear:

Don’t send your kids school? Well, you’re gonna have a socialization issue on your hands.

And what I do when I get faced with some big, unknown, scary question?

I read.

A lot.

So, I did. And in my research I realized that this… this isn’t actually an issue. I mean, it can be if you sit around in your house all day and never get outside, never get your kids around other human beings of all ages, shapes, and sizes. But if you make an effort, if get out of your little shell and try to find a community, you totally can. Kids want to interact with each. They want to play. They want to be together. And then so long as you’re there, so long as you have persistence and a willingness to put yourself out there and try, it’ll happen.

For your kids.

For you too.

But for some reason, when I first started talking with my speech pathologist and coach (she coaches me and I’m the one who works naturally with Kate throughout the day… and even night since a parent’s duties don’t stop when the clock hits 5:30), all that common sense, all that I learned about homeschooling and the natural process of being social, just went out the window. Because my fear had a good, good hold of me.

I asked our speech pathologist about socialization and about what I could do to help Kate.

She asked about the parallel play and I said, yes, Kate did that.

And then… she told me not worry. That it would happen and for some kids, normal developing ones, parallel play can naturally take a few years to develop.

“Don’t worry,” she said.

Oh, I totally didn’t listen.

I did worry.

And I did have many sad moments when kids said mean things to Kate because she couldn’t understand. How they’d exclude her from play or whisper behind her back. Call her baby.

It broke my heart.

I cried.

But I learned too. I learned how to stand up for her. To be her voice. To guide her and try to explain what another kid might want of her. As Kate’s receptive language as improved, so too has her play. How she’s able to respond faster when someone asks her something, like hold a bag or to run, but only run when someone says, “Go!”

But… how did this actually happen?

How did we go from moments of her being told, in a mean, unkind way to, “not stand there” because “we don’t want you here?”

Moving from that… to a place of joy and smiles?

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Again, I had to grow myself. I had to learn to be Kate’s voice. I told friends, who I felt comfortable and safe with, how I felt. They gave me the sympathy and support I needed, to know that these were my friends and they cared. That they would take steps to teach their kids about Kate and her language delay. And that helped give me the resolve to not give up.

And then, I switched my approach.

I realized, for us, that when one group of kids grew very close, they weren’t as welcoming to someone different. Someone like Kate. At least, not without some amount of parental involvement and explanation to teach.

I wasn’t comfortable with that particular group, so I tried another.

When that one started getting big again, I switched to another, all the while hoping and believing we’d find our place. And I kept working at it. Kept talking with parents and when I saw a bond developing, I made an effort to compliment and thank this mom for how kind her daughter was to Kate.

And we finally found our place in our all-age park day. This is the one where you’ve got teens there and the tweens and the ones reaching double-digits, and then a handful of younger ones like my Kate and Eric.

It was this group where I saw Kate shine.

The kids her age weren’t there in the large numbers, and that was better for her. She made friends with older kids who saw she was different and asked me questions. They were curious. They liked playing with her and she liked playing with them. Then there are times when these friends weren’t around, so she’d shadow some older boys, literally mirror what they were doing (with a fake sword) and sit down right beside them.

And they tolerated her. She wasn’t bothering them (or they would have left, or I’d have stepped in).

Because these park days were working so well for us I started my own weekly meet-up. Every Friday I welcome all ages of kids to go and explore and play in nature. It’s at different locations, though there are repeats. And by doing this we’ve met more friends and Kate is in a place where she’s comfortable. Play dates at home with toys didn’t’ work for us, certainly not with kids around her age. But running? Playing at the tide pools? Splashing?

She can do that.

In fact, she loves it.

And every week, we do it again and again. She’s now seeing these same kids from week to week. She’s seeing these moms from week to week as well. She’s no longer hesitant about going to our blanket and pulling our snacks from the bag like she first was. She’s runs right in.

Comfort and control is huge for her, and I’ve kept at it so we could get to this place.

We are an introverted family and it wasn’t long before I realized that large group settings wouldn’t work for Kate. Even at her party, with all the wonderful friends she had, who she knew and enjoyed, she would break off and play with three or four at a time. Small groups. She followed where her comfort led, and this whole time, I’ve been listening.

Listening to her.

What works. What doesn’t. Who she plays easily and well with, who she doesn’t.

Now, when I show her pictures of our play days, or mention the names of some of her favorite friends, she smiles. She recognizes their names and faces. She wants to see them. When we briefly saw some friends at Disneyland and they left to do their own thing, Kate was sad. She said, “no.”

She wanted to stay with them.

And when we went to a recent Nature and Play day and I watched as she sat with another girl, and helped her build a sand castle, there was an ease and comfort in their play. Her friend was patient, and when needed, I stepped in to explain. When her friend told Kate to “hold the bag so I can put rocks in it?”

Kate took the bag. Without hesitation.

She understood.

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And for those with late-talkers, especially with receptive delays, that’s huge. Her reaction, so natural, without any pause… it’s big.

But so is her smile when she sees her friends. Or she sees any kids at the tide pools like we did just this weekend, how she wanted to go up and splash them and play. Just as she did with her friends.

Comfort.

I’ve done everything I could to set the stage for her. Tried play dates at our home with different kids, different ages. Gone to different park days with our homeschool groups, and just kept trying. And while we tried, I kept working with her at home. I kept learning how to be her voice. She kept growing, maturing. And so did I. Then one day, in between all our smiles and my excitement, telling Sean what Kate said or did with one kid or another, until one day, this is the new normal I woke up to.

I’m still amazed by it. Still surprised. Still filled with such joy.

And I wanted to let the other parents out there know, parents who are new on this journey with their young children, or kids who are Kate’s age and haven’t reached this same social level as Kate:

You will get there.

So long as you keep your heart open, so long as keep listening to your child.

What worked for us won’t necessarily work for you. But if you keep at it, you will know when you’re on the road to something special. Maybe it’s a place. Maybe it’s a person with the right kind of temperament. Maybe it’s a wonderful older child who’s willing to come over and play with your late-talker.

But you’ll know it when you see it. And honestly, our kids are learning more about socialization than even we know… because they want to learn.

And, they are.

Trust me. They are.

If you’re willing to trust them. If you’re willing to listen.

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Saying No… to Those You Trust: My Journey with a Late-Talker

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Photo credit: Ashlie Inez

 

It’s not easy being your child’s advocate. To stand up against family or friends or medical professionals, to really get behind and tell your child: I trust you.

You, my child who doesn’t yet talk, but who smiles with such complete joy and happiness… you … I trust, you.

I will listen to you and to those smiles. I will listen when you cry and I will act on those tears. I will stand against everyone who’s not willing to believe in you, who’s not willing to understand and to get to know you.

I will do what you cannot: I will be your voice.

Yeah… that’s… that’s a pretty tall order, right?

No pressure or anything.

Not to mention, if you’re not a fan of confrontation, if it makes you uncomfortable, or, if you’re like me, you’ve shied away from conflict as much as possible your whole life… wow, is there a learning curve.

But… the good news is you can learn. One step at a time. One conversation at a time.

How, perhaps one time you didn’t interject fast enough and it wasn’t until hours (or days) later that you realize what you should have done instead. It’s this introspection, this willingness to look back and follow your feelings, what you liked, what you didn’t like, that gives you a new roadmap forward.

A wonderful friend once told me that this is a new skill and it’s going to be messy until I figure it out.

She was right.

But also, that idea that I don’t have to be perfect has made all the difference. It means that I can go out and practice and get better at it.

Better at being Kate’s voice.

I can (try) and give you some tips, some little bits that I’ve learned along our journey, but really, your path and your options will be different from ours. But regardless of what your path and your choices look like, I really wanted to say is that you’re not alone.

Not alone telling perfect strangers no. Or, even harder, our trusted core group. People who are on our side but who may not be in 100% agreement with us.

What do you do? Fall in line? Stand your ground?

The answer isn’t black or white. It’s not cut or dry. It’s different for each one of us, and different at each point in our child’s journey. Oh, and that point also moves, so, good luck hitting it!

But really, I think it starts with empathy.

Empathy for ourselves and what we’ve gone through, but also towards others. It’s taking a look at and understanding where this other person is coming from. Often, if family or friends, it’s from a place of love. For medical professionals, it’s a concern for our children.

I feel once you understand them, it helps you connect… and to get your own message and needs across. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes the best answer truly is:

“No.”

No, to different evaluations or return visits or therapy that you know in your gut isn’t right for your child. In those cases, you call and cancel. (This is, of course, is with the caveat that every path is different for every child. Only you know what’s best for your family, and I’m all for it.)

For us, this is how it started.

We decided what early intervention offered was so far into left field for what we wanted for Kate and our family, that we said no.

“No.”

And after cancelling those appointments, I’d run into well-meaning strangers who think that therapy is some magic pill that, as soon as your kid starts showing up, they’ll start talking and will be well on their way to being ‘normal.’ Then, there are those other disbelieving, opinionated parents that make the off-handed comment of: “Oh, you’ll wish she’d shut up when she finally starts talking.”

So… how do you handle those people?

Well, your answer will be unique for you and your personality. Me, the polite, conflict-adverse person that I am, have finally figured it out. Trial and error was required, but here’s mine (and to the person with the completely rude comment):

“I’ve waited four years to hear my daughter say, ‘Mom.’ Thank you, but no. You’re wrong.”

And yet, these strangers are the easiest to tell to fuck off.

See, I’d (silly me) thought that once I cut out the people from my life who brought in their negative judgments, who couldn’t see past their own opinions to actually see Kate, I’d be totally fine. Like, I would be in the clear. Life would easy and all I had to worry about was her and her progress forward.

Yeah… no. Not so much.

I am very fortunate and blessed that our family is on our side. They’re not pushing or probing, they’re trusting us and more importantly, they’re trusting Kate. A huge part is that we’re open and honest about Kate’s progress, about what we’re doing at home, all the speech play I do throughout the day. The work that our speech pathologist does with me (she coaches me and then I work with Kate). But the other part is is that I’m continually being Kate’s advocate. I’m reminding our family of her personality, of why she does things the way she does, and that we must just be patient and go at her pace.

And even the person I’m working with, the speech pathologist coaching me, she’s a medical professional with extensive experience with late-talkers… and just recently, I had to tell her no as well. And that was hard.

Really, really hard.

We’d ended a recent phone call and I was upset. I didn’t feel uplifted or ready to conquer the world. For me and my personality, I really soak in other people’s emotions. I’m a straight-up empath, through-and-through. So, if you have negative emotions or judgments, I literally take that inside me and it takes a lot for me to shove it back out. This, unfortunate for my husband, requires talking.

A lot of talking.

And he… listens.

It was after that phone call with this professional, when she’d started pushing for therapy again and even school services, which she knew we were very much against… and I slowly realized this all came about because of a misunderstanding.

That’s all it was. A misunderstanding. And yet, that emotion left me filled with turmoil and confusion, and honestly, hurt.

You see, it’s hard when you have someone, a trusted member of your team, suddenly do (what it felt like) a sudden reversal. Speech therapy does not work for Kate (she actually stops talking altogether). Seeking different therapy or school services opens the door for conflict and negativity, and for me, an incredible amount of anxiety because 1. I’m the empath described about and 2. oh, boy do I not like conflict.

And all that? Oh, you better believe that Kate senses it.

And, guess what?

All that effects her talking. All that effects her trusting in her words.

I had to process all these feelings, and really, this disbelief that she would turn around on us like that. But again, it was a miscommunication and once I figured that out, once I figured out what her concern was, I was able to find a way to get back on our path.

Due to scheduling issues and also Kate, feeling the pressure of when I recorded her (where she suddenly stopped talking), I was told to hold off on the videos. I did that. Our speech pathologist forgot. And when I reminded her, her urgency had changed from not putting pressure on Kate but to actually putting eyes on her.

I get that.

I get that she wants to be dialed in, with her pulse on Kate, to watch her progress and change course if something isn’t progressing or working right. (Or if we need to see someone else, medical-wise).

I told her everything about Kate’s progress; I journal and take notes every day. But this wasn’t enough. She needed the videos.

Well, I got myself a tripod thing (that looks like a spider) for my phone and that was enough. I got a good 30 minutes of Kate babbling and saying the words she does say day-to-day, and our medical expert was incredibly happy. Everything she saw was exactly what I’d reported. But, with Kate in particular, she needed to see all the little bits, all the looks and glances at me, sharing in her joy. How she played and how her play had expanded.

My point with all this is to say it was still hard. In fact, it was incredibly hard and, honestly, hurtful. Here was someone that I fully trusted and believed in, and was turning around and suggesting to do something that I knew was wrong for Kate.

Again, I had to stand up and be her voice.

By doing that, I cleared the waters and we’re moving forward again. I was honest with my feelings and what we wanted as a family. We will not always agree with her, especially when it comes to learning and moving forward as Kate gets older (we have chosen to homeschool her and follow her pace and progress rather than getting her ‘school ready’). Again, our choice, our path for this particular child.

I’ve realized too, that I’m not alone in that position. You think you really are in the clear when you find someone on your side, that you won’t need to stand up and walk those uncomfortable waters of conflict.

Nope.

But what does happen is it gets easier. It gets easier to say how I feel and what I believe is best for Kate. It gets easier to find solutions to areas that I’m anxious and nervous about… for example, Kate needs her four-year check up. She’s hardly ever sick and we never need to see the doctor, and this will be only our second time seeing. And you know what? I’m afraid. I’m afraid of his negative opinion and judgment because he doesn’t know Kate. And, truthfully, I don’t know if he’ll care to get to know her. Our last pediatrician didn’t. All she cared about was her checklists. She didn’t care what I thought of, as a mother, and what I was seeing in Kate every day. She didn’t even take me seriously when I started talking about language disorders. All she saw was her checklist… even though she was admitting, right to my face, that Kate wasn’t actually following the checklist.

Except for the part that she wasn’t talking.

So, yeah, not so great experience with a doctor who’s known Kate since she was eight months old. I’m sure you can understand my nerves here.

But!

I have options.

A friend, who’s also a doctor, recommend that I write our new pediatrician a letter before the appointment, telling him how I feel, about Kate and how far we’ve come. Also, our speech pathologist offered to make him up a video and evaluation about Kate. This way he also has a medical opinion weighing in too.

I understand his job is to see that Kate has the best care and getting the help she needs. My job is to show him we already are and everything we’ve chosen to do is the best fit for Kate. And really what I’d like is another person on my team. Someone I can trust, someone who’s willing to do more than just read off a checklist and send us off to one evaluation or another.

I’ve already had to stand up to this doctor once and truthfully I’m terrified he’ll look at her and not see the incredible progress she’s made. Because, again, Kate is not normal and her language is not developing like a typical four-year-old. But her temperament is such that if we push her, if we force her, she will not talk.

Push her, force her, and she will not talk.

It will be years before she does. I’ve already seen this in the brief experience we had with early intervention and with the private speech therapy we did, even at our own home.

So we absolutely must respect Kate’s feelings. We must respect her need to feel in control of her words. She will not use them until she trusts them.

This is a very long journey ahead of us, but it’s one I’m not afraid of. In fact, in my deepest of hearts, I already knew this. Right now, we’re looking at her talking closer to five, and I’m okay with it. I’m completely at peace. I’ve chosen to be on this path and to follow Kate on her journey, to help her however I can.

My speech pathologist warned me that people will start to push me with Kate. That, if they’d seen her recent video, they would push. And they would be very, very wrong. She told me as well, that I would have to say no.

I didn’t tell her that I already had, including her with our prior conversation.

Regardless, though, saying “no,” is going to take practice.

And it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take practice.

It’s going take some creative thinking to protect myself from negativity and judgment so I can continue to stay in this place of joy and love. But it’s important to listen too, to keep an open mind and hear what others have to say… but the same is true for everyone else. When they meet me. When they meet Kate. When they hear about our journey and our decision to do it together. Keep an open mind. Trust that me, as a parent, know what’s best for this particular child.

I can’t make Kate talk.

What I can do is help her, in anyway I can, to trust in her words. To have fun. To play.

And that’s what I do, every day, every moment she’s awake. And you know something? That’s when the magic happens. And when it does, oh, my, it’s truly something else.

It’s a smile that came about because I chose to trust in her… and in myself.

One Year Later: My Journey with a Late-Talker

 

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In just a few short weeks, Kate will be turning four.

Four.

I’m in a state of… shock and surprise. I can’t believe her birthday is finally here, just like I can’t believe that this year is over, but not in the usual way you hear when it comes to kids. It’s not like Eric, who went from my just barely-walking-baby to my opinionated, foot-stomping 19-month-old who has zero problem telling you when he’s not happy. With him, it was like the time just zipped by. With Kate, it’s like I can’t believe her birthday is finally here….

And just how far we’ve come.

I’ve kept a journal all this time, recording Kate’s progress, making notes about senses and feelings I might have, but really, it was to help me to not get discouraged. So that, even though she wasn’t talking, I would have some measure of success right in front of me (because, you know how we all like to think about only the bad things, and then only remember the bad things).

And because Kate’s birthday is here and I’m in a mood to think back, I went through my journal and got to see just how much progress Kate has had. How, a year ago, the big steps were the slight increase (and my awareness) of her receptive language, of her understanding of language. I watched and recorded how it grew, and how as it did, her eye contact and connection with people grew. Little steps. Steps that if you had a typically, normally-developing child, would be invisible.

For us, they were tiny and huge moments of success.

But the real success, the real pivotal moments of change, didn’t come from Kate.

They came from me.

They came when I said no to early intervention, going instead with my gut and knowing, knowing that if I sent Kate into the program they wanted for her I would break her. I said no when her pediatrician, instead of listening to me and what I’d learned about natural late-talkers, insisted that we go back to a neurologist even though I’d told her, repeatedly, the next step was testing and we would not subject Kate to those tests.

I found myself a new pediatrician.

And when the new pediatrician dared ask how I was qualified to work with Kate on her speech at home I told him straight out: I am her mother.

And he backed up.

Fast.

The success with Kate and her words came when I found a professional who understood children like her, who wasn’t seeking to change her but to recognize the child she was – and how that child would learn best.

But the real success came when I decided to do the work, the speech play, on my own. To get rid of our speech therapist and just take control for ourselves. So many people are surprised and shocked when I tell them this. That we don’t do speech therapy, that speech therapy did nothing but a burn a huge-ass hole through our pockets. They are absolutely shocked because, how can I be qualified to do this? How can I know what I need to teach Kate? The proper form for the mouth for words?

I mean, really.

How qualified do you really have to be notice that your kid might be singing, “Let it Go,” from the movie Frozen, so you start singing it too? How many years of schooling and on-the-job training do you need for that??

I’ll tell you.

It was three-and-a-half-years of on-the-job training.

As a parent.

As a mother.

Three-and-a-half-years of me figuring it out, of me finding my own voice, as a parent, and how to stand up for Kate. To stand up for who she is and how she learns and saying ‘screw you’ to everyone else.

We’ve purposefully made decisions, from finding new medical professionals to sticking with our guns about homeschooling and skipping over the school system, just to avoid those fights. To avoid filling our heads and hearts with their negativity, to prevent anyone else from adding the doubts about our daughter, and our connection with her.

We know who she is, and most importantly, she knows who she is.

And she tells us, every single day.

Just so long as we’re willing, and aware enough, to listen.

I’ve even had to disconnect from a once-close friend because of the judgments. Because this friend, while she still loves us, can’t help but feel like she knows more than me. Because she can’t trust in what I know as Kate’s mother. Instead of fighting against my belief and hers, it’s just been easier to pull away. We are still friends, though barely, but I can’t let someone else’s thoughts and opinions get in the way of Kate’s success.

My success.

And it is success because I did claw my way out of this deep, scary-ass black hole of fear. And trust me, you don’t know fear until you’re confronted, by someone else’s opinion, that something is seriously wrong with your child. With your baby. And it doesn’t matter that in your heart you don’t believe it’s true, that you know differently, you’re still only a parent, after all, so what do you know?

Now none of this, none of this is at all to say that speech therapy or early intervention are bad things. They’re not. But they are not the Be All and End All that everyone believes. (Not to mention how all those everyone’s believe they have the right to tell you their opinion whenever they nilly-willy feel like it… even if you just happened to run into a mom who’s jogging around at farmers market. Oh, and if you don’t agree with those opinions, you should just see that look of disgust and judgment you get.)

You see, we found our own way. One that fits for our family, and most importantly, for Kate.

A year ago, Kate didn’t have a single word. Not a one, at least that she used daily. She’s got a few of those now, and others that she’s working on. And those words, not a one of them, came about because of the work the speech therapist did with her.

They came because of me. They came because she trusted me, felt comfortable with me, and decided to give it a try. To let go of the control and the safety to try and speak. And they came because I was strong enough to trust in myself, as a parent, as her parent.

To not let anyone else, anyone at all, say differently.

That’s my success.

It’s playing games in the pool with Kate, and through those games I’m now hearing: “One, two, three!” as we push off the walls with our legs. Or, “Up,” as I throw her up into the air.

It’s the friends that Kate now has; the many, many friends who will be at her birthday party. And this is also the first year that she has some understanding of what a birthday party is. It’s her recognizing the names of these friends and even showing me their picture to tell me, “I want to see this person.”

But it’s also my friends. The friends who come to me and say thank you for all the trust I’ve put in Kate. For them, to watch both of us grow and grow, in our confidence, in our willingness to just stand and be different.

And most of all, especially over this past year, my true success is in Kate’s smile.

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Pure joy.

Pure happiness.

It’s because of us, of our love, our connection, our willingness to listen to her and her guidance. That’s all the proof I need to know we’re on the right path, that we’re doing the right thing, for Kate.

The year is finally over and I can look back and see just how far we’ve come.

The words are finally coming, if very slowly, but they’re there and they’re beautiful. That, and, finally for the first time ever, Kate is whispering the one word I’ve been so patiently, patiently waiting for and that fills me with more joy and love than you can possibly imagine:

Mom.

This is my journey with a late-talker, and I wouldn’t change it, not for the world.