So, this is actually my first official holiday with a late-talker. You know, the kind of holidays with huge gatherings, extended family, and possibly nosey relatives and friends who believe they know all-there-is-to-know on things talking related. Because, well, they read some article somewhere.
And who knows, maybe my experiences won’t go in this direction. Or all of them. And I do have family who understands Kate, who understands the choices we’ve made, and that’s been wonderful, truly wonderful having that kind of support.
The thing is, I don’t know about all those other relatives, the ones who don’t know my family or Kate… but I do know from other parents with late-talkers that this can be an issue. And I do remember from last Christmas, a very clear memory, when one of those relatives gave Kate a book. It wasn’t the kind of loving way to give a present (and I’ll see if I can describe this right). You know the feeling when you hand a gift to someone and you’ve just got this hope and joy that they’ll enjoy what you’ve gifted them? There’s love there. No other expectation. The gift was given with love. And love for that person rather than for yourself (many versions of this, like ‘what am I going to get in return?’).
Instead, this particular gift, a book, was given to Kate with a, “Can you say book? Boook?”
That bothered me then and it still bothers me now. I mean, seriously, if I can’t get my kid to start talking you really think you can? Someone that Kate seems maybe five times a year? Seriously? (We won’t even go into the fact that her baby brother had literally just come into her life and mommy had the unfortunate circumstance of needing a C-section. So, yeah. Lots going on and talking was certainly not on Kate’s to-do list.) But not only that, this kind of ‘pressure,’ this pressure with words to talk, went completely against our belief and just letting Kate be. Completely against it.
So. Here we are, our first holiday with our official late-talker. What do I? What if this happens again?
I don’t have lots of advice for others because, well as I said, it’s my first. And you know there are actually plenty of other parents who’ve been down this road and back again (Parents, feel free to chime in with your sage advice for us newbies), but what I can do is prepare myself for what to expect. See, I work good with plans. Especially when it comes to words and possible areas of conflict, and honestly, defending my daughter. Because that’s what this will be about. Standing up and defending Kate. Letting her be who she is and telling all those potential nosey relatives to Back. Off.
But for me personally, I need to know what to say. How to act. Oh, and still be polite.
See, I’m actually a very polite person and conflict? Oh man, I am not a fan and avoid it as much and as long as possible (this is also one of my continuing areas of growth where I force myself to have that conflict… hence, this particular blog post and my Plan).
First off, the Plan needs to be simple. Complicated means me fumbling the ground ball instead of making this a quick and easy catch (not to mention large group settings already get me headed off into that ‘complicated’ territory, being the introvert that I am).
Check. I can do this. I like simple.
- Keep perspective.
These people aren’t mean or malicious. They genuinely care for Kate, BUT they do need to know that we are the experts on Kate, not them, which of course leads to that potential area of conflict….
- Don’t back down.
This one here is key. If there’s something happening, something said or implied, especially around Kate… I need to step in. I need to say, in my nicest way possible, to not do that.
“Please don’t pressure her to talk.”
“What you’re doing (or saying) is very stressful for her.”
Hmm… and maybe the key there is to call it what it is: pressure. Because what the word does is tell these nice, well-meaning relatives that they’re putting a negative experience on Kate and it’s not welcome. And we, as parents, are not okay with it. Of course, they won’t see it as negative because, well, they don’t have a late-talker. And honestly, the only way these people can know what to say or not say, what to do or not do, is if I open my mouth and tell them.
- Honesty and openness.
When I first went down that deep, dark, freaked-out parent hole where I learned there was something “wrong” with Kate, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I wanted to get her into speech therapy as quickly as possible and get her talking, because well, everyone treated therapy as a magic pill where if you just started it, magic pixie dust would happen and your kid would be talking, no problem (and this, believe me, is a blog post to come). But then, I overhead another mom thinking about taking her son to the same regional early intervention center I went to. I remembered, very very clearly, how my husband and I were blind-sided and extremely hurt by what was said to us there and done to our daughter. Oh, and it was done all under the guise of “helping her” to be “normal”… and it left me in tears (for days), my husband furious, and I know (now), that Kate claimed up with any talking or babbling she might have had coming.
That’s when I decided to open up and tell the world about my journey. No one should ever be blind-sided like we were. No one should ever feel like their heart is being ripped out while someone expert talks shits about their child, and all under the disguise of being “helpful.” People should know their options, know they aren’t alone so when they do choose to go to these evaluations and assessments they know and understand their rights as parents. They should know that no one else on this damn planet knows their child better than them.
And since I’ve opened up and shared my experience, it’s been amazing. Simply amazing. I’m finding people, people who are reaching out and wanting to connect with me (which is just crazy to my mind), because they also don’t want to be alone either. They want to share their experiences. They want to help others get through this very scary road where you, and only you, are standing between your child and a system that, if you’re not careful, can truly harm your family. (Disclaimer: this may not always be the case. There are good people out there, good pediatricians, good therapists… people who are willing to listen and understand what it means to be a late-talking child and all their own little quirks. You just got to find them. Which, is not always easy.)
So again, back to my step four: honesty and openness. When I’m honest and open with family members, when I tell them where Kate is, what we’ve done to help her, what’s actually going on (and no, it’s not autism) the more information I give them, the harder it is to refute it. I mean, I’m educating them. I’m helping them to see and understand Kate.
And if they’re not willing to listen?
- Listen to my gut.
There are times when it’s best to walk away. You know the types. People who are set in their ways, who refuse to be open, who refuse to even entertain that someone with some other opinion than theirs that might actually be right for another family. Well, I don’t have to associate with those people. I can be polite. I can tell them I don’t agree, but that Kate is my daughter. If they can’t play nice by the rules I’m setting, well, they don’t get to be around her. I can leave the party too. That’s an option, a last resort sure, but it’s an option.
It’s my job to defend Kate. To stick up for her and letting her be her.
It’s also my job to learn how to play this role which, as I said earlier, I’m not very good at. But I’m learning. I have no delusions this holiday season will have some bumps and I know I’ll learn from them. And maybe with some people I won’t be so open, especially if I know who they are as people. For example, I have one friend who truly believes in the system of education and experts because, well, they were educated. I haven’t told her yet that we’ve dropped the speech therapy and that me, a simply, lowly parent, is doing the work. Every day. Like one-on-one over pouring of milk, cutting apples, or putting Calico Critters in a car. Or (and this is important), little brother Eric threatening to destroy the hard-worked puzzle while Kate says, “No, no, no, no.”
My response is recasting this as, “No, Eric.” Or “No, don’t.” Or combined: “No, Eric don’t.”
You’ll never believe that Kate is slowly working (and I do mean slowly) on saying “Eric.” And “don’t.”
This happened because I got some basic principles from my speech coach and the book, Play to Talk. But it’s also happening because this is just our every day life and patience (mine). And trust me, Eric going after Kate’s stuff? Happens about 50 times a day. Persistent younger siblings are very helpful with late-talkers.
Not everyone will be able to understand this. Not everyone will want to understand this. And that’s okay. I just need to listen to my gut, that core emotional feeling I get, and take whatever time I need to form a response.
- Time and breathing.
For me personally, someone who’s not good at processing words on the fly of a conversation, I need to remember it’s okay to take my time. To breathe and think about a response before actually responding. I’m allowed to do this, and it’s the only way I can get past my own childhood wiring of deferring to the older, wiser adult (because they’re older) and to stay true to the kind of parent I want to be.
This is all going to take some work and I won’t get it all right, certainly not all the time, but having this Plan will go a long, long way to handling possible family situations as they come up. Hopefully I won’t be a stunned-deer-in-headlights again when someone asks Kate to talk. I don’t think I will be (it’ll probably be some other way I wasn’t expecting). But hey, the good news is Kate will just ignore most of these people. If you’re not the type to get on the floor and play with her, well, she’s really doesn’t care a whole lot about you. So all this will roll off her shoulders, but it’ll stick on mine for a little while because I want to do better as a parent. I want to be the right kind of parent that she needs, right now.
But really, I’m looking forward to the holidays and the family gatherings. I’m looking forward to sharing and who knows, maybe by sharing I’ll learn that one of the (many) analytical types in our family actually had a late-talker too. And if not, that’s cool. At least it’s another chance to offer the right information to more people on what it means to be a late-talker and that for these types of kiddos, it’s actually pretty natural.
And pretty damn normal too.
So, here’s to you all having a Merry Christmas – and to those other parents out there – whether you’ve got late-talkers or homeschoolers or just doing something a bit different than what the Family deems Appropriate – you’re not alone this holiday. Stick to your guns in a way that works for you, and don’t be afraid to stand up. Or walk away. After all, the holidays will always be around but our kids need us, listening and trusting in them, right now, right in this moment. But definitely, and just as important, give thanks to those in your life who get it. The ones who love your kiddos for who they are, and the ones who love you for making the hard choices that are right for your family. They’re the ones we’re really celebrating the holidays with. They’re the ones that matter to us, and to our kids.
I know I am so grateful to have those people in my life. People who are willing to listen, to learn, and not just from me, but from Kate too.
Thank you, to all.
You know who you are, and please know too that I wouldn’t be here, at this place, this sense of peace, without you in our lives. Thank you.