Surviving Uncertainty: My Journey with Late-Talkers

 

It feels like, for the first time in about four years, I’m breathing again. Or, more accurately, like I’ve taken this big, deep breath and finally, after such a long time, am letting it out again.

I never expected our parenting path to turn out the way it has. I never expected to be homeschoolers, or more accurately, to be self-directed learners. I never expected to follow a respectful parenting approach.

I certainly never expected to have not just one, but two late-talkers.

In fact, when Sean and I decided to have a family, we’d always expected our journey, our kids, to follow the typical path. I mean, with all the statistics, why would we ever assume differently? I also assumed that I would hear my kids’ first words when they were twelve months old, like everyone else.

Life, however, had a different idea in store for us.

Or more specifically, our kids did.

I fully believe Kate, and then Eric, were given to us for a reason. Sean, and especially me, are the absolute best parents to help our children, to guide them, and even more importantly, to trust in them.

And wow has this been a journey.

Of learning to step away from the mainstream Way Of Doings Things. Of accepting our path and learning to trust not just in my kids, but in myself. That I am the best speech partner for our kids. That I am their best voice, their best advocate. No one else. No other medical professional or teacher, but… me.

Me.

As I have always said, your path, your journey as parents won’t look the same as mine. What has worked for me won’t work for you (or maybe with just a few tweaks it’ll work just fine). Your family, your kids, are different than mine. Your kids face different challenges than mine, whether it’s behavior, or whether your children have different challenges and different special needs, and all the variations and colors in between.

Life is never a one-size-fits all. There is no one right box that we all fit in, all nice and neat and with a big ol’ smile on our face.

For me, for my kids, our journey has been about two things: trust and patience. Trusting that my kids really and truly know their own minds, that they know their process for growing and learning. And then patience… that I will give them the time they need to develop and grow. That I will be patient and trust in their process. My two children, who are very much introverts, but who are still different with their own unique quirks.

How Kate won’t come sit at a table full of adults, especially when their attention shifts back to her (and she’ll go and runaway again; how dare you focus and draw attention to her!). While there’s Eric, who happily sits on my lap and eats up all the bacon and sliced cantaloupe. He couldn’t careless that you were looking at him. He just ignores you, happy to simply eat his food.

Two kids, two introverts, and yet in many ways, completely different.

They have taught me so much.

Taught me to focus and learn all the language that comes without speaking. My nonverbal communication with them, all their cues, their context and behaviors, it’s off the charts with how in tune I am with them. That’s what they needed me to be; that’s the role I needed to fill. To be their translator in a world that was speaking a foreign language, even though it was the only language Sean and I and the rest of the family spoke.

And yet even as confident as I am, of having gone down this road, of believing and waiting for Kate to talk, four years of patience, it still wasn’t easy.

I still wasn’t without my fears and doubts.

Heck, just last week I was in complete anxiety about bringing Eric to the doctor after a cold lasted a little too long (I wanted to make sure his ears were clear). But why all this anxiety? Why was I almost in tears at the thought?

Because I didn’t know if the pediatrician would grill me on Eric’s progress. I didn’t know if he would listen about our experience, about Eric’s progress, about the leaps and bounds Eric has made these past few months.

Or, if he’d just see Eric in comparison to all the other kids and push services on us that I knew, without a doubt, would do more harm than good. For us, anyway. (Why do I know this? Because I know my kids. I know what our experiences with Kate were like and no one way in hell would I put Eric anywhere near that. Certainly not with the cost being so high. Again, just my experience for my family, and very specifically, what was best for Eric and who he is.)

Regardless, I would have stood my ground if the doctor pushed. I would be Eric’s voice. And thankfully, it never came to that. It wasn’t needed. The nurse just checked his ears, listened to him breath, and all was fine.

My anxiety, my fears had been for nothing.

At least I recognized why I felt so much anxiety. It’s an area that I need to keep working on, to keep reflecting on and healing because I am walking a different path from the mainstream, and I’d really, really like to not use so much damn energy whenever I need to stand my ground like this, to be different and walk this different path. But, that’s my self-work and part of my journey. Something I’d probably have just swept under a rug and shrugged away if I hadn’t become a parent, if I hadn’t had these two amazing, unique children who are continuously challenging me to be better… stronger.

And they have.

They’ve challenged me and they’ve opened my eyes to this other world. It’s been an amazing journey, one which is far, far from being over…

And yet… as I said in the beginning of this post, I’m breathing easier. I’ve taken this huge breath and then, let it out again.

Why?

You’re probably dying to know, especially if you’ve followed our journey.

You see, Eric just met with our speech pathologist, Mary Camarata, who is one of the few people I trust with her knowledge of children with language differences. She’s truly an expert on them, and really understanding the why behind the child. Not that she’s always spot on the money (I had to stand up for Eric several months ago when the videos I sent didn’t accurately portray him). But truly, she can see their temperament and the child underneath. And temperament, believe it or not, can play a huge role in all this. Mary’s insight, at least for my family and who my kids are, gave us this light bulb moment of understanding. This, “oh” feeling you get when something just clicks together and makes sense.

And finally, Mary got to meet Eric, as he is now, an almost three-year-old.

Funny enough, Eric has been around speech professionals since he was about six months old. He was around when we had a private speech therapist and he’s been in the videos I’ve sent to Mary, about Kate, since he was about nine months. He was on track, developing just fine, until he just decided to not talk. He was focusing on other areas, like fine motor control (dear lord did he love his marble maze and could maneuver an entire handful with his chubby hands at just eighteen months, dropping one at a time into the small tube).

We initially started Eric’s journey not at all concerned and then slowly realizing that yes, it looked like Eric would be a late-talker as well.

When Mary was here to meet Kate for the first time, a year ago, it was still too early to know where Eric would fall. He was still in the range of normal, though as time passed it became clear that he’d be like his sister, too. Which is actually pretty rare (the chances of two siblings both being late-talkers is like 1 in 10, according to Mary). Even rarer still is having those two late-talkers follow a very similar development… which it appears, they are both doing. (Mary couldn’t quite confirm this yet since Eric’s a tad too young, but just based on their temperaments and the similarities, she feels confident telling us this.)

So, Kate in every way, has been training for Eric.

And oh my, was he a challenge about five months ago (I’m sure you remember those blogs I wrote—wow, was it challenging, especially the instant frustration, BIG emotions, and very limited ability to communicate).

And now? Now what do we know about him?

Well, we know that, besides Eric’s not talking, he’s a completely normal little boy.

And that right there, is why I just let out this huge, huge breath.

It’s why when, Mary packed up her stuff and drove away, I felt this huge, huge weight lifted off me.

It felt like I could breathe again.

This is the little boy that I have always seen, the little boy I’ve always known, and who I have been fighting for, tooth-and-nail, continually telling everyone to give him the time he needed to develop.

I knew in my heart, in my gut, who he was.

I knew his temperament and understood it, and I’ve pushed like crazy for others to see it as well. This is something, until recently—we’re talking just a few months ago—there were only a select few people who Eric would trust in this way… who he would look up and smile at, engage with and play. Not that he never did this before, or that he wouldn’t do it at all, but it was like, for a period of time, it felt unsafe to him. He needed to feel completely safe and that he completely trusted a person. I can only guess at this, guess at what was going through his little mind and why, but I understood that he had a different temperament in this way.

Heck, both my kids do and it’s not always been easy for others to see this or understand it.

But I stood my ground.

I kept my notes, my journal, and I shared those moments that proved who Eric really was (even if he wasn’t about to let the random stranger those moments himself). And as I said before, there was a time when Mary was concerned about Eric. To this day, it was my fault. It was the videos I’d sent to her (thinking to send ones similar that I did with Kate). The problem was, Eric and Kate were at completely different places, completely different concerns, if you will. With Eric, she wanted to see him engaging with me, sharing in the play, looking at me after something cool just happened (this is called visual referencing). Instead, I showed her videos with him engaged in a toy, like his marble maze, which he hadn’t played with in a while. He was super excited, super focused… and pretty much ignored me the whole time. It’s understandable why Mary was concerned that he might be orientating to objects more than people.

So, I had to stand up and ask her exactly what she was looking for, that she wanted to see…

Then, I went back through my journal and my memories and I shared how her assessment wasn’t correct. She felt better to hear all this, but I could tell she was still concerned (and again, I could understand that). She was also worried that here I was, doing all this by myself. No speech therapists to help out, homeschooling to-boot. But again, I stood my ground. I defended our way and our choices. I knew that early intervention would be an absolute failure for Eric, even damaging for him, and hiring a speech therapist wouldn’t work, either (at that age, the only one Eric really wanted to engage and play with, was me).

And you know what happened? The next round of videos I sent to her?

There wasn’t a single mention about orientating to objects more than people. Because it wasn’t true. It wasn’t there. (Believe me, when Eric was young I wished he could play more independently to give me a gosh, darn break.) And what also started happening with Eric… well, he was growing up.

He was feeling safe again.

He was looking up and engaging with others, bit-by-bit. First with my mom who played and roughhoused with him, then our mother’s helper who he started running about the room and showing off to.

I caught all those moments on video.

What Eric needed, more than anything else, was trust.

And time.

I made sure he got them both. It was not an easy road. In fact, it was scary at times and filled with so much worry because here I was, having to stand up to someone I trusted but who I knew wasn’t right in her assessment. But I held on… I kept believing… I kept on helping Eric in the way that he needed…

Trust, and time.

That’s what he needed.

And when Mary finally got here, when she met Eric in person after a whole year, someone he didn’t know… and Eric immediately started showing off. He was pushing me to the ground so he could fly like Superman, looking at her like crazy with this, did you see that?! expression.

All of those little bits of connection, so small, seemingly so insignificant and yet so very important for language. So important to show that yes, he does care about others, he is engaging, he is showing interest… even with someone he doesn’t know.

Mary got to see this and so much more.

She even got some measurements from him (which surprised both Sean and me—again, this a kid he walks to his own beat and we didn’t think he’d be interested in participating). Mary checked to see where his nonverbal communication was and I another surprise because it was higher than Kate’s when she was around the same age.

We didn’t do any official testing for Eric, but that’s not something Sean and I wanted or needed. Certainly not at his age. One of the absolute joys of homeschooling is we’re able to go at our kids’ pace. There’s no rush or push to get them “school ready.”

So even without that “official” diagnosis out of the way, I’m still breathing easy.

Why, you ask?

Because the whole time, Mary got to see my little boy. The boy he is and the one I’ve always known him to be. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. That’s all I expected her to see from this visit.

See him.

Understand him.

She told us, that other than his not talking, he was a completely normal little boy.

Which I’d known in my heart, this whole time. Not that I was in denial; believe me, I know my kids. And you know yours. Seriously, gut instincts of parents is pretty darn strong and I know for a fact mine is through the roof. It needed to be. My kids needed me to be this way, to connect with them, to meet their wants and needs, to help and guide them emotionally.

I know, for many of you other parents, you’re still in that weird between place of not knowing. That your kids aren’t so clear cut. Their manners and behaviors aren’t fully understand because maybe they’re still too young, they haven’t developed enough to give you a definitive answer of who they are. You have been patient and you’re trying so hard to not give in to all those worries and fear, and yet you still don’t have answers. Or maybe you do and those answers are hard to hear, harder to even see any joy down your particular path.

I want to send you nothing but love and support, regardless of where you are on the journey. Because it is a journey. It’s not over when our kids finally do start talking (as much as we might think so in the beginning). And maybe this will be a life-long journey for some.

But… that’s okay, too. It’s okay if your child doesn’t fit into our worldview of “normal.” They are who they are, which is beauty, joyful beings.

Joyful and happy. That’s what truly matters.

And again, it’s okay. Okay to not fit in a box.

Kate doesn’t. Eric doesn’t.

That doesn’t mean their boxes are misshaped. In fact, Eric’s box is a different color than Kate’s, different shape, too.

It’s his box.

And honestly, I think he’s just sitting right on top of it. Sitting and proud strong and really not caring what anyone else thinks about it either.

I’m going to celebrate that with him. With both of my kids.

They’ve taught me a lot about my own box, and you know what? Mine’s different too, and I love every inch of it, every dent and ding I’ve gotten along the way of living. Every scrap of duct-tape… even the ones that are beginning to peel.

It’s my box and these, these are my kids.

Happy and joyful and thriving in the world we’ve shaped… together. Our life, our journey, looks nothing like anyone else’s and I really don’t want it too, either. We’re forging our own paths, one that works for us, and one, each of us, is thriving on.

Maybe not always, I’m certainly not without the ups and downs of the journey, but every step along the way is a chance for me to learn. Learn about my kids, about myself.

As a family, we are happy and joyful, even if the journey is far from being over. And, it’s okay. For now, I’ll just breath easier knowing what I know, knowing who my son is and being able to support him in the exact way he needs.

Knowing exactly, where we need to go as a family, and that’s towards happiness. Joy.

So know that, if you’re still there, living in that space of uncertainty, when you don’t have answers and all you feel is that dark worry living inside you, eating away at your joy and your happiness, try to take a deep breath. Try to see the child you have in front of you, the child that’s yours and no one else, and remember the love. We will never get these times back, when they’re little and being silly, running around in circles before crashing to the ground because that’s what toddlers do. Weird things. Fun things. Like getting them dressed and immediately after, they walk right into a pool with their clean clothes (and the only extra dry set you’ve brought).

I know it’s scary. I know those fears, I know what that uncertainty can do to you, my dear, parent.

Focus on the love and their joy. Live in that moment with them. Live in their joy. Because that’s what matters more than anything else: their joy.

And, your happiness with theirs, together.

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