I’ve mentioned before, although not in any great detail, that I’m concerned about Ted’s speech development. I’ve swung between hugely panicked and completely in denial but I’ve always resisted doing much about it.
We did decide, when we got the letter saying two year olds no longer have a review with their health visitor unless it’s requested, to go and have a chat to check his development. At this stage we knew he wasn’t quite where he should be and his nursery key worker was questioning whether he had special educational needs, but we were really just looking for reassurance.
At the review his health visitor, Leiza, (who, in my experience of health visitors, is a rare gem in that she never made me feel like a bad parent) said he fell into the ‘normal’ range but only just. She wanted to review him again a few weeks later and as I was due to give birth a month later we agreed that we’d have a chat at Ben’s review.
The next time we saw Leiza ended up being at Ben’s six week review as she was on holiday when he was born and, stupidly, I was back to burying my head in the sand. Ted had developed a few more words and was using the ones he already had more regularly. I said I was happy with his progress but Leiza suggested checking again at Ben’s next review.
During the next couple of weeks Ted’s vocabulary exploded. He went from twentyish words to seventyish words. We were really excited and thought everything was going to be okay. But then we went to a couple of play groups and realised, again, just how far behind he is. He’s not joining words together to make sentences, his words aren’t clear, he doesn’t use pronouns and he has no grasp of abstract concepts like under, over, later, after, before. At one of the groups we went to this week a child much younger than Ted was talking about what she got for Christmas and it broke my heart a little. If you asked Ted what he got for Christmas he wouldn’t be able to bring it to you, let alone tell you.
There are lots of things Ted does well and that he developed much earlier than most children. He has an amazing memory for places, he’s been able to match colours for as long as I can remember, he knows where his toys go and puts them away in the right places, he has excellent categorisation skills, he’s been counting to twelve for months (although the numbers themselves are just imitations of the sounds it’s clear he knows what he’s doing) and he’s always had a love of books, sitting turning the pages (with the book the right way up) for as long as he’s been able to sit. But he doesn’t talk.
He knows how language works. He makes his toys talk to each other and they take turns. He uses such expressive gestures and body language. His babbling has the intonation you’d expect of real speech. He just doesn’t speak.
Yesterday Leiza came to do Ben’s 3 month review and, having discussed it prior to her visit, we decided to ask her to refer Ted to speech and language therapy. We’d always resisted it in the past because we were so convinced he was just lazy or that he’d start talking in sentences one day because boys are just generally slower. People around us told us about kids they know who started talking late and how it hadn’t done them any harm. Only one person told us we should look into SLT because it would be better to start it early if if would help him.
That was the point when I realised that everyone else had been trying to make us feel better or underestimating how far behind Ted was. We talked about it and decided that we’d rather ask for an assessment and either be told there was nothing wrong or be given guidance on how to help him than look back and wonder if we could have helped him more if, down the line, things didn’t get better.
Today Leiza came back to complete the paperwork for the referral. It was very basic and not at all scary. She reassured me that I was doing the right things because she could see the way Ted and I were interacting. After over a year of thinking I’d done something wrong it was a relief to hear that it’s just the way he’s developing. Of course I still have the guilt of knowing that I should have arranged this assessment sooner but at least I know he’s going to get the support and encouragement he needs.
Now I feel a mixture of guilt, relief and nervous anticipation. I’m worried that there will be more than just his speech identified as an issue and that there might be “something wrong” but I know that we need to address any problems while he’s little. The next step is to speak to a therapist over the phone to see what kind of assessment Ted needs and then we look at ways to support him.
If you’re worrying about your child’s development don’t do what I did. The sooner they get help the better the results will be. If it turns out they don’t need anything then you can be reassured that you did the right thing, and if it turns out that they do then you can focus on getting them the right support. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do for the best because parenting is such a trial of guesswork and bluffing, but asking for help can only be a good thing.