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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