Dealing with a speech delay has taught me a lot. It’s taken me a long time to write this post. When I first began typing it up, I wrote this:
My son is 20 months old and still hasn’t uttered his first word. He is officially speech delayed (he also isn’t walking, and is delayed there, too). When I heard the words, “Your son has a speech delay”, although they weren’t a shock, they still hurt.
Well, now my son is nearly three. His first word is up for debate. He can consistently say: no, yeah, uh oh, ow, ball (but ball means a lot of things in his vocabulary). Still no mama, no I love you.
This is despite our best efforts. I narrate my day, incessantly. It’s rare to find a moment I’m not talking to
Let’s go brush our teeth. These are our teeth. This is your toothbrush.
It’s time for lunch! Do you want to eat? What should we eat?
I read to him. Admittedly, I should read more. I try, though.
He’s seeing a developmental specialist from Early Intervention.
We’ve had his hearing checked.
Sometimes, we think he’s saying mama or dada. And, trust me, we provide ample amounts of positive reinforcement.
Yes, that’s mama! Great job! That’s your mama!
But, then we realize it was a fluke. He has no intention of repeating the sounds. It didn’t mean anything.
How I long to hear my toddler say mama. I dream about his sweet voice forming the word with intention.
But I’m still waiting.
I wanted to share what I’ve learned thus far on our journey with a speech delay.
Find Joy in the Silence
He can’t tell me he loves me. But he can hold my hand. He can cuddle with me.
He can’t tell me he loves me, but he shows me in so many ways.
He doesn’t say mama, but he knows who I am. And the love he has for me is written on his face.
Although I long to hear him speak, I try to find comfort in these things. When he grabs onto me to cuddle, I know how much he loves me.
He doesn’t have to say it.
I Blame Myself… A Lot
The first time we met with Early Intervention, I was a nervous wreck. I asked my husband if he thought they’d tell me I wasn’t doing a good enough job.
What if they told me I was failing as a mom? That nothing was wrong with him, and everything was wrong with me?
What if I ruined him? I know how important this age is. He’s supposed to be rapidly growing his vocabulary. He should be learning new words every day. What if it’s too late?
Even though no one has said that, I find that I still blame myself. I should’ve read to him more. I must not be talking enough. There must be something I’m doing wrong.
I think it makes it harder that he’s my first. If I had a kid before him that developed on time, then I might not question myself as much. But since this is my very first rodeo, I’m sometimes convinced that it’s all my fault.
There is No Magic Wand
Without realizing it at the time, I know now that I had insanely unrealistic expectations for our therapy. I thought our developmental specialist would correct a few of my mistakes, and we’d be set.
In reality, it’s taken months to get him to adopt a couple of signs. And he’s still not consistent with them. He has to be prompted.
I don’t know why I thought it’d be a quick fix, but I did. I assumed we just needed some training and he’d be back on track.
Everyone else’s baby is progressing (mine is too, just on a different timeline). Everyone else’s child talks. It’s so hard to be around other moms when your kid is so far behind.
My close friends know about our struggles, so it’s easier with them. But when we go to story time at the library, surrounded by strangers, the differences are obvious. My son is also super tall for his age, so most people assume he’s older than he is, which makes me feel even more judged.
I watch other kids walk and talk and wonder how their parents did it. I wonder what their moms did differently. I want to ask someone.
Basically, it’s easy to feel alienated. I wanted to cry when we met a little girl who was walking at a year old. 8 months younger than my son (at the time), and ahead of him. It’s so hard not to compare.
Of course, then I feel guilty for comparing. Everyone says that you can’t compare kids because they’re so different. And in most instances, that’s true. But when your kid is delayed and you watch kids who aren’t delayed, it’s impossible not to compare.
And I realize that a speech delay is not a big deal. There are so many other milestones he’s meeting and that brings me to my next point.
His Progress is Cherished
I can’t even explain how excited I am each time he makes a new sound, or repeats a noise. The joy I feel is phenomenal. I know that once he masters talking, it won’t be as special.
(Not because it’s not still special, but eventually the novelty wears off, right? When he’s twelve years old I’m not going to be delighted when he can say a sentence, you know? It’ll be commonplace, hopefully.)
So, for the time being, I am soaking up every special moment. I am finding joy in each tiny, tentative step forward. I’m thrilled when he does a sign without prompting. It’s probably going to be a longer journey than I anticipated (see above), but I try to think of it as more time to appreciate his progress.
I’ve Become his Interpreter
I can discern between so many of his grunts and made up signs, things no one else can understand. I’ve learned to pick up on the tiniest clues so that his needs are met.
My husband is often at a loss when my son says ba ba ba ba, and I have to swoop in and interpret. And although it’s exhausting, it’s kind of cool knowing that I can translate.
Sure, sometimes I miss the mark. Sometimes I can’t figure it out for the life of me. But when I get it right, I can see how relieved my son is, knowing I’m there for him.
I like to think this is a special bond we have, and that he’ll always know his mom has his back. I hope that’s the case, at least.
Are you currently dealing with a speech delay? Tell me about it in the comments. If you found this helpful, please share it with your friends!