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Dispatches From Speech Delay Island

Dispatches From Speech Delay Island

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

My precious, amazing, easy-going, astoundingly beautiful 20-month old just will not talk. A few weeks ago, his doctor guessed he was on the verge of his language explosion and said she’d give us a referral if we really wanted, but suggested waiting awhile because everything else was fine.

He was not on the verge of a language explosion. If anything, he’s lost a couple words. And a few days ago, I read a cheerful article about not worrying if your child isn’t talking much yet, because some children this age only have ten words, and I just snapped, because “ONLY ten words?!”

He does not have that. He doesn’t have even half that.

I know kids develop at different rates. I know that every other single thing about him points to, “he’s fine.” But I’ve been worrying about him since he wasn’t babbling on time and I can’t deal anymore. If nothing else, I’ll get an expert opinion telling me things are Just Fine, Wait and See. Or we’ll be equipped with something to do to help him.

So, I more or less told my husband I was calling and getting the referral. He’s not really on board, but he didn’t really argue or anything. And I got the referral and it got set up so fast.

My husband doesn’t want to talk about it. And I keep telling different people about it, friends, relatives, and they’re all great and supportive. They’ve listened to my worries before. But I just keep compulsively finding people to tell, I don’t know why, maybe waiting for someone to say just the right thing and understand. And it’s ridiculous, in a way, because nothing anyone says will take away the fact that I am scared something is wrong with my child.

And the other thing is, no one in my circle has really gone through anything like this. So, I can’t really believe assurances that it will be okay. Everyone is lovely and supportive and I still feel terribly lonely with this.

I’m not really writing with a question. I guess I’m more just writing because I just needed to share the worry with someone who has been here, or somewhere like here, so I could not feel so alone and scared.

Thank you for listening,
Worried

You’re doing the right thing. I repeat: YOU’RE DOING THE RIGHT THING.

And I’m not saying that, incidentally, because I necessarily think there is something “wrong” with your child. Because here’s a little dirty secret: There’s something “wrong” with everybody’s child. Because everybody’s child is a human being, and human beings are not ever, at all, even a little bit, “perfect.” Thus, no baby, no child, no teen, no adult, is “perfect.” We are all flawed and complicated and different and have “stuff” we struggle with or need to work on. Speech can be part of that stuff. Or motor skills, social skills, academic skills — every child eventually runs into their stuff.

But I completely, 100% understand how HARD and SCARY and UNFAIR it can feel to have your child’s stuff crop up sooner than everybody else’s child’s stuff. There’s a bit of a grief/mourning process, as you say goodbye to the days where you lived in a breathless bubble of “he’s perfect!” Like you, I was completely alone when my firstborn was identified as speech-delayed (around 22 months).  And then pervasively-delayed across a whole spectrum of stuff. In fact, it felt like I was surrounded by nothing but early talkers and fearlessly typical, “perfect” little toddlers. And moms who stared at me blankly, because heavy stuff, man. I can’t really relate and don’t know what to say so I’ll just tell you the story about how Einstein didn’t talk until he was four/five/nine years old for the millionth time.  (For the record, he was three.)

That’s probably why I turned to the Internet and blogged my way through the Early Intervention roller coaster. And it’s probably why you wrote this question. So let me loop back and say this one more time: You’re doing the right thing. Also, I know. I understand.

The worst thing — my absolutely most least favorite thing — is and always has been the days leading up to a new evaluation or appointment. Even now! After going through countless evals and meetings and therapists and whatnot, I still get a little nervous/stiff/panicky ahead of time. So this point right now? Where you are? It’s the worst part. Yes, probably even worse than getting your fears confirmed with a delay diagnosis, because then you KNOW. You can move on to the DEALING WITH IT part. The PLAN and ACTION part. The part where you can GET SHIT DONE.

For the record, speech delays, on their own? No big thang. A flesh wound. I can’t tell you the number of parents I NOW know, in the elementary school world, who are all, “oh yeah, my kid had speech therapy too.” And you would never, ever in a million years peg that child as having trouble talking. We place way, way too much emphasis on verbal skills, I think, and tend to use them as a marker of general intelligence or future academic success. As a mother with three children who were all OVER the verbal development map, I place my hands on my mouth and make obnoxious farting pfffffftttttt noises in that theory’s direction, because WRONG.

But for the record, early speech therapy is awesome and fun. I learned SO MUCH from it. And with the right therapist and guidance you might see results in no time. Particularly at this young age, because sometimes toddlers just don’t talk because they don’t see the point. You might not realize that you’re pre-fulfilling his every need and request before he has to make it — because you know him and his schedule and are loving and attentive, which are good! But sometimes, for some kids, you need to shut up and listen. And wait. And give them a little more desperate motivation to tell you what they want or need. (And here’s where I insert my standard go-to recommendations for speech-delayed toddlers: The Hanen Program’s It Takes Two to Talk and Signing Time [DVDs or Amazon Streaming]).

But I’m getting way ahead of myself here, and ahead of you and your child. Who might not even be officially speech delayed yet! 20 months is still definitely, totally early-to-borderline! But again, I think you’re doing the right thing because you’re following your gut. Your instincts, whatever. Some might call it first-time motherhood neurosis or something, but go ahead and pfffffftttt in their direction too. You know your child. You know what you’re thinking and feeling and suspecting and it’s GOOD to just deal with it. Check it out. If you’re not comfortable rolling the wait-and-see dice anymore, stop and schedule an eval. It’s not going to hurt anybody and no therapist is going to like, yell at you for wasting their time if your son wakes up that morning with 10 magical new words.

Here’s a secret, though: Your son’s language development does indeed sound a lot like Noah’s, which is another reason why I suspect you wrote me. But it also sounds a lot like…Ike’s. Who my husband worried about a LOT. He was fairly convinced we needed to get Ike evaluated because…well, NOAH. We’d been through it before.

But I didn’t schedule an evaluation. I didn’t turn to the Internet to wring out my fears. I didn’t tell anyone that yeah, Ike toe-walked on occasion too. I didn’t ignore it or stick my head in the sand, but I listened to my gut. And my gut was telling me loud and clear that Ike was fine. He understood everything we said but was quiet because his older brothers talked for him, and because my husband and I totally fell into the habit of pre-fulfilling every need in order to keep our bustling, chaotic household rolling smoothly. If he had sensory issues, they were extremely mild and stuff that I felt (from years of reading and interacting with experts and other special needs kids) I could address at home with the right activities and games. (Book rec! The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun! Totally essential!) I upped his enrollment in his toddler Montessori program five mornings a week to increase his interaction with peers, because I suspected that the classroom environment would “force” him to speak up and make his needs known better than being cared for one-on-one by me or a babysitter.

Guess what? I DID THE RIGHT THING. It took until 26/27 months, but Ike’s language fully and totally EXPLODED. He skipped right from a decent-ish list of single words to full sentences. Paragraphs! Nouns, verbs, abstract concepts, please and thank you, for God’s sake. The toe-walking disappeared and thankfully, so did our fears.

I’m not sharing that anecdote because I think THAT’S what you should do, by the way, like some obnoxious “this is what worked for myyyyyy child so therefore blah blah smuggy smug smug smug.” It’s more of a testament to The Mother’s Gut, and the Importance of Following It. We doubt and question ourselves so damn much, but really, we’ve got this. We know this. We know our children and we know what our children need — from us, or from someone who knows more than us. And so do you. Because you’re doing the right thing.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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GradBaby
Guest

I just have to comment on this one because it very much could have been me writing 6 months ago. My awesome now 2 year old didn’t talk at 20 months and I had him evaluated. It has been an interesting journey thus far, and certainly not one I expected. After worrying, I contacted a local birth-3 program a mom recommended to me. They came out and did a holistic evaluation of his skills with two nice women and a Russian translator (we’re a bilingual family). Their conclusion was that he showed significant delays in both receptive and expressive language…… Read more »

Sara
Guest
Sara

Hi Gradbaby, My twins boy/girl also have both receptive and expressive language delays. I’m very depressed worried they may be autistic but they are both loving kids with good eye contact just don’t talk. I was wondering how things worked out with your son?

Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

I had a completely different issue with my daughter — she didn’t eat anything other than breast milk until she was 13-14 months. No, that wasn’t a typo. We got her checked out by a paediatrician and a development specialist and there was talk of motor skills and physical issues and OT and medical tests and procedures and yet … My gut said she was fine. Her brother was a late eater too (10 months). We waited. And lo and behold she picked it up and managed to get down a goldfish cracker before she was 16 months, the pediatrician’s… Read more »

MG
Guest
MG

I assume that “everything else is fine” means that you’ve had his hearing tested?

Otherwise, I’m just adding to the chorus — get it checked out so you can stop worrying (even if it means you start worrying about something else, like Amalah said, at least then you’ll have a way forward — and your amazing son will still be your amazing son.)

We had Early Intervention with our son (preemie, hearing loss) and at least for us, they were wonderful to work with.

Best of luck to you and your son!

Sara
Guest
Sara

I’m also chiming in to offer virtual hugs and emphatically nodding my head to TRUST YOUR GUT. My son actually had gross motor delays, so a bit different, but sort of the same – his pediatrician waived it off cause there’s a range for walking, etc and it’s fine, blah blah blah. But my gut told me otherwise and I also contacted a birth-3 program that will evaluate your child without a doctor’s referral and if they qualify, will bring it back to the doctor (and usually at that point the doctor will agree to move forward with services). It… Read more »

Sarah in Georgia
Guest
Sarah in Georgia

My son was in speech therapy through my state’s birth-3 program for the last year; at his recent yearly evaluation, he did so well he no longer qualifies for services. The therapy has been great, but I have also been grateful for someone who knows what they are talking about to answer all of my first-time-mom questions. Please go ahead with the evaluation–I was surprised at the things the initial evaluation asked about that my son already knew, and about the things that had never occurred to me to do (I hadn’t ever considered having a tea party with my… Read more »

Kat
Guest
Kat

I have absolutely no personal experience on this one – but I just wanted to give you a virtual hug and agree with Amalah. We know our babies best, and sometimes checking in with a professional is a great way to learn a little bit. May turn into nothing, might be something, You sound like a wonderful mom, your love for your son is very apparent and no matter what happens he is extremely lucky to have you to help him through it (even if “it”) turns out to be nothing.

Delora
Guest
Delora

My older son was a bit of a late talker. At 18mos, he only had 3-4 words, so his Ped gave us a referral to Child Find if we thought it worth pursuing. At that point I didn’t, so took a wait and see approach. By 21mos he still hadn’t gained much ground, so we did the eval, but didn’t show to be significantly delayed and didn’t qualify for services. He ended up having a language explosion between 22-24mos, and slowly began to catch back up. This scenario set the tone for my younger son. At 18mos he wasn’t talking… Read more »

Carolyn
Guest

We’ve had a VERY similar journey as you have! I worked for years with kids with Autism, and so when I started thinking something was up with my son around 18 months, everyone suggested I was just paranoid from my job. I brought it up a few times with my son’s pediatrician, who suggested we wait and see, since 18 months is still awfully early. When he was around 22 months and still not saying “mama” or “dada” we started speech therapy. It was only twice a month and I wasn’t always sure if the progress my son made was… Read more »

Abby
Guest
Abby

You sound just like us. Husband and dr said he was fine. No one was worried but me.! However, NO words-every milestone–no words! I had him evaluated he had speech therapy for a year-so much fun (minus one social work that told me he would have been better off in daycare-because they would have made him speak-(he knew sign language -so he could sign what he wanted. lots of guilt and crying because of her–many others assuring me that itwasn’t my fault that he didn’t speak). Then we went to my sisters beach wedding. We came home and he told… Read more »

Amy
Guest

Comments – tl;dr When we went to my son’s 2 year check up I was not happy with how much he was talking.  Everyone assured me that it was because he had two older sisters who spoke for him, or because he was a boy and boys are slower to talk, or whatever, but I was concerned, and I’m his mother, so we did something… We took 6 months of speech therapy (which, by the way, was completely covered by our health insurance and 100% free to us, hopefully yours will be too), and now I can’t get that child… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

 “annoy the baby until he talks.”

Best description of speech therapy ever 🙂 I’m so glad we’re past that point of the process.

Helen
Guest
Helen

My son was fairly severely speech delayed, and I took my pediatrician’s advice to wait and see for some time… crappy pediatrician. But even though we started speech therapy later than what might have been ideal, my son still made excellent progress. His speech still isn’t perfect, but having gotten him in the system, he still gets therapy (age 6), and he’s still improving. He talks ALL THE TIME and omg he’s so bright. Also, early speech therapy is really fun – my son preferred it to preschool (I remember one morning walking up the path to preschool dragging a… Read more »

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

Just wanted to add my weight to the Go with your Gut and Do the Evaluation camp. We started to worry about our son’s lack of language when he was 18 mos. old, but our pediatrician at the time was in the wait-and-see camp. We moved at around that same time from a state with almost-no Early Intervention services to one with incredibly robust services where, at our son’s two-year well-child exam, the pediatrician encouraged us very strongly to pursue an evaluation, which was great, because we really wanted to do that anyway! Our instincts were right, and our son… Read more »

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

I should note that none of those moves had anything to do with our son’s diagnosis/services. They were all related to our own grad school/career paths. But we were greatly fortunate in that each move took us to a place that offered just what our son needed at the given time.

C
Guest
C

I am an SLP who has worked in early intervention … I don’t want to talk specifics because I haven’t met your child, but I will give some general thoughts. First, you are doing a great job, mom! I know it’s hard to know if and when and how to go about deciding whether or not you think your child could benefit from an evaluation when it comes to developmental skills. I know this from both sides of the fence, as a mom who has had children in OT and PT and as an SLP who has talked to countless… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

Hugs to you! I know how hard it is to go through this process. Just wanted to say that we have been using birth to three services for my son’s speech since he was 23 months old. I LOVE our speech therapist and she has been amazing. Most of all, she has helped me to learn how to encourage speech in my son. I’m sad to think of the day he qualifies out of services. His progress has been tremendous and I just get so emotional getting to have actual conversations with my little man.

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

I’m going through the exact same thing right now too. My son turned 2 a few weeks ago. Before turning 2 he had maybe 2 words. In the few weeks since turning 2 he has about 9. Which is great but also still leaves him very delayed. BUT, my gut tells me he’s just fine. Of course I worry a little because it’s not the “norm”, but overall I know it’ll come. I called the day after he turned 2 (the minimum age they’ll evaluate here in Canada) to get the speech therapy ball rolling and we’ll see what happens… Read more »

Jen
Guest
Jen

I was in that exact same spot with my son at 2 yrs old too; it’s so hard especially with your first to know how worried or not to get about, well, everything.  We did the speech therapy evaluation too and it actually was most helpful for myself in learning a bunch of new things I could work on with him at home – in our case he was behind on a number of things he just had never seen / heard before.  I agree with the folks above who say to go for the speech evaluation – it can only… Read more »

OP
Guest
OP

Thanks, everyone, especially Amalah, for your kindness and concern and helpful responses.  The eval by a speech and language pathologist got set up really, really fast.  I thought I’d be on a month long waiting list or something, so I’d have some time to ruminate and get used to the idea and maybe a few bonus weeks to see if the talking picked up.  Not so!  We got in practically immediately.   His receptive language is fine.  His expressive language is delayed.  Not severely, but enough.  The SLP who did the evaluation recommended half an hour of therapy twice a… Read more »

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

Definitely follow your instinct! Speech therapy – it won’t hurt and it might help. Our younger daughter made us worry at a year old. She started regressing. She stopped waving and clapping, and she wasn’t pointing at all. Those were red flags enough to warrant an evaluation. She was evaluated at 15 months and hadn’t progressed much – her eye contact and engagement had returned, but she wasn’t talking or pointing at all. The speech therapist who evaluated her deemed her delayed enough to qualify, but said to wait until she was 18 months because before then, it doesn’t help… Read more »

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

Thank you so much for posting about this issue.  I’ve been feeling exactly the same way about my 19 month old son’s speech delay.  (And physio, and occupational therapy, and special visits to this doctor and that. . .)  It’s good to know I’m not alone.

Tracey
Guest
Tracey

My daughter was speech delayed at the same age, now 5 years ago. We were told (by Help Me Grow, who did the initial assessment) that we could either get a referral for speech therapy, or wait and see what she was doing when she turned two. Our first instinct was to wait it out, but she was so difficult to manage – always a high needs baby anyway, and oh the screaming and temper tantrums, and it occured to me that she was getting frustrated at not being able to express herself. So we got the referral. Meantime I… Read more »

Heidi
Guest
Heidi

I think if you are worried, and your mom gut tells you there’s a delay/issue then you should get the eval. It may be nothing, it may be something, but if it is something, earlier = better. But! If it’s borderline? Wait a few weeks/months. Try some of the strategies you can research online. See what happens. I was concerned when my son wasn’t talking “on schedule”. I may have gone a little overboard with the worry. Ahem. But I had a hard time scheduling an appointment and stuck with some engagement techniques I read about online and in one… Read more »

Alison
Guest
Alison

I agree with what most people have said so far…trust your gut. I have a set of twins who started speech assistance at age 2. They are 5 now and one has “caught up” and graduated from the program while the other still receives speech assistance for articulation. Having gone through this with the twins, I was super sensitive about my 3rd child when he too did not have words. I called and spoke to a speech pathologist multiple times. Each time she asked me multiple questions about what he was saying and gave me things to watch for and… Read more »

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[…] for many years, but now is attending public school and is managing really well. She wrote on article on the topic of speech delays which was very informative and helpful. It was very uplifting to read […]

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

I cried when I read this post and all of the comments. My 18 month old son doesn’t have any words, and I suspect he has some hearing issues cause by chronic ear infections. Right now, I’m in the grief/mourning process, and it helped to have someone validate that process.

Kathryn
Guest
Kathryn

I just wanted to thank everyone for their posts! They are so encouraging. My 2nd child (just turned 3) is speech delayed and the anxiety of all this has been very stressful for me! I, too, started googling like a mad woman much against the advice of my husband and got even more worked up!. I’m glad I found this website to see that it will be okay.  He’s in speech therapy and moving forward and I’m starting to realize that it will be okay! Thanks again everyone, very encouraging to a very worried mom!