As a Child Development Specialist, I enter people’s homes providing developmental intervention sessions and see more than an adorable toddler that I get to teach as their bright eyes believe I have simply come over to play and have fun with them.
I work with a vulnerable population, but I don’t mean the children—it’s the new parents.
Many times, though not all, I see new parents with questions and they are pushing down fear. So many blame themselves when things aren’t going smoothly. Unsure of what happened that they needed to call Early Intervention or how things will turn out, they take their child’s pace of development personally and question themselves. I cannot help but desire to provide comfort to the families by confiding in them about my own experience as a former Early Intervention parent and reassuring them that delayed speech can have less to do with something we are lacking as parents and more to do with their developing personalities and traits.
Every child is different. Having my own four children within four years, I can attest to this: children are who they are and grow at their own speeds. As we each have our nuisances that are quirky but make us who we are, so do these little ones.
My first child was a preemie, walked on time, was a good listener, understood us, but was quiet. I avoided well-meaning loved ones’ comments, putting it off and hoping that somehow it would all just work itself out and he would start talking. Eventually, by the time he was a little over two years old and still pointing to things he wanted to communicate, an acquaintance who was also a therapist insisted I call Early Intervention. So, without any excuses left, I did.
Within a few weeks, a nice lady with a huge smile, warm demeanor, and a bag full of toys entered my home once a week to work with him. Within six months, he was talking! His first word was “happy” and one day he walked up to her like he had something very important to say. She bent down to his level and he said, “One time . . . I fell . . . and my mommy hugged me.” The gratitude in my heart that I had for this therapist was immense. She helped my child find his voice!
Now, many years later, he still embodies a quiet peacefulness as he assists in coaching younger children with skill and ease on the Little League field.
We cannot make children speak when we want them to. We can lovingly guide them, be present, and connect but ultimately, our children’s language bursts and increases as toddlers to preschoolers come along in their own timing.
This may be a difficult idea to propose but consider this: throughout our children’s lives, we are the ones to plant the seeds. But what if we won’t always be the ones they need to get them to sprout up?
Just like we cannot be everything to our partner or our parents, we may not always be the one to help our child reach a particular goal. With encouragement and time, ultimately, it’s theirs to pursue.
My second son was an early talker. He is still the friendliest and chattiest of all his siblings. He has comfortable conversations with adults and recently sold three boxes of chocolate for his school’s fundraiser, beyond the required single box. He sets goals, aims high, and dreams big. He is who he is!
Our children’s outcomes are less about us and more about them as unique individuals. We are a means of support for them growing up with a sense of safety to grow into themselves. We deliver them into the world, nurture, guide, and advise but ultimately, we can’t make them do anything. They need to grow in their own time—and that takes a delicate balance of patience, focus, space, and trust.
My third child needed Early Intervention. I saw all of the signs and didn’t hesitate this time. Fear went out the window because I knew the benefits of Early Intervention were immense. This time, I embraced it. He had a therapist for about a year and no longer needed services before he was three years old. This child is now a voracious reader who read the entire Jurassic Park novel in second grade (please don’t judge me), and his teacher once told me with a smile, “He probably tells me about 10 stories a day.” He loves to talk, but back then he needed a boost.
Parenting children who seem to veer from the typical milestones do not need to be wrought with worry, fear, or anxiety but met with curiosity and with an understanding that we, and those who know the child, are being equipped to see the world (and even ourselves) through a different lens. Those who love a child with a speech delay or with special needs are called not to fear, but to be adventurous and veer from the status quo. Support is needed, yes, but this involuntary need to branch out proves to be fruitful in shaping us also.
My fourth child was an early talker, like my second. She is social with her family and friends. She is brave, strong, caring, and has no problem telling people to take a hike when they overstep. She amazes me. She is loud around loved ones, does well in karate, is learning piano, and yet is very shy in school. It’s hard to get her to open up there.
Children are who they are and their timing of growth isn’t in our control.
I share all this with you to say I’ve been there.
When I am assigned to families, I think it’s important for parents with very young children at home to know this.
When we see the plus sign on the pregnancy test or when we get the phone call that the adoption has been approved, we don’t know who we are about to meet. And it’s okay.
Parents of children who are late talkers need to know this precious child in their care is not speech-delayed or a late talker because of something they’re lacking.
You are their safe place. You are their warrior and advocate. You are their good thing. You are not the cause of your child having a speech delay, but you are the answer.
If you’re in this time of life feeling overwhelmed and alone, please know you aren’t. So many parents feel the way you do. I did. Now on the other side of the baby years, I like to encourage younger parents and share my story. Call your state’s Early Intervention hotline or enroll in an outpatient speech therapy center if needed. And know this: it really is going to be okay.