Hi friends! I've missed you!
I'm back in this space, hopefully more regularly! I've been sick pretty much constantly these past few months and have just plain been worn out. I've had a lot on my mind and you know how that happens and you seem SO MUCH MORE TIRED than normal and you just don't want to do anything extra? I'm waving my hand since that's been me for quite a while now.
Back in early December we decided to have Paige evaluated by our state's Early Intervention program. At that time, I'd spent a significant amount of time worrying about her lack of speech and her lack of interest in being with me or caring whether or not I was there. She spent a lot of time playing by herself, looking at books alone in the corner...generally keeping herself entertained all day. She seemed to wander from thing to thing without ever stopping for much time to really play with anything and never seemed to be able to focus on anything. When I spoke to her she never really looked at me or seemed to care about what I said. Her moments of eye contact were swift and fleeting. Now I know it's all called a "Lack of engagement." She could make the sounds of the animals and say "Dada" but couldn't say Mama or much of anything else that would be useful in her day. I wasn't as much worried about her speech in figuring that perhaps she was just going to be a "late talker," but it was the lack of interest and focus in anything that was starting to freak me out along with the fact that she wasn't trying to communicate via pointing or gesturing (which came not long after the evaluation, phew!)
The evaluators came out and it was a melee of women crammed in our play room as they watched Paige wander around and tried to get her to do different things. She ended up having very advanced gross and fine motor skills (well past 24 months and some things closer to age 3), and her cognitive skills were where they needed to be. But her expressive language (the words she says) and her receptive language (the words she UNDERSTANDS) were way behind. Meaning at a 10 month-old level. Paige was 19 months old at the time. They also noticed that she seemed to not be able to focus on things because she was too busy seeking out sensory experiences...she had to touch everything or chew on her doll or play in the bean box...and they hypothesized that THAT was why she was behind...she just couldn't organize herself enough to pay attention and learn from what was around her.
She was immediately assigned different therapies...a developmental specialist (DS) to help her work on social skills, eye contact, engagement, focus, etc. A speech therapist (a speech language pathologist) to help her develop her language skills. And an Occupational Therapist (OT) to help sort out her sensory needs and how to meet them so that she could focus on her tasks. She starting seeing the DS once per week (for one hour) and the others once per month (for one hour). Unfortunately, many snow days, illnesses on both sides and other challenges made the number of visits be dramatically less than planned so I can't quite yet say it has had a huge impact aside from the bits of advice they can share with me at the end of the visits.
But, I CAN say that through my own research, reading and studying I have figured out the best ways I can help Little P at home on my own time rather than waiting around. It may not be perfect, but it's something and it's consistent. In the beginning of January she had 10 words and as of yesterday (March 27th) she has 114 in her expressive vocabulary (words she can say without prompting). She is able to focus for huge lengths of time. She is able to follow directions now and point out anything in a book if I ask her. She is finally starting to mimic us...not just repeating words but also making faces we make in the mirror, silly dance moves, and other games (things she used to be unable to d0). She looks us in the eyes all the time now. She smiles and wants hugs and snuggles. She kisses us and says "night-night" at bedtime. She comes to me and clings to me through the day (which she never used to do). She has starting asking for things she needs and communicates her needs if she can't say the words (she never used to even point at things she wanted or needed...she'd just cry). She's a whole different kid in only 2-3 months' time! I can say that I believe that she's a late bloomer in hitting those certain milestones, but she hit them. My fears have finally subsided as she now acts like the other kids in her classes and even takes certain leadership. It's exciting since it wasn't long ago that she used to run away from the other kids and play alone in the corner and avoided everyone and everything at all costs. She certainly never could take direction or sit still. Now it's all different.
I've spent a minimum of one hour each day (usually closer to 3) of working with Little P. I've read a lot of texts about how to engage a child who is hard to engage. Our best method has involved PLAYING together in a concentrated way for several chunks of time through the day. The website Teach me to Talk has been monumental in teaching me HOW to play with Paige in a way that will engage her, keep her with me during play, and learn to enjoy being with me. In turn, she can LEARN from me (language, eye contact, fun, warmth, give and take, all sorts of social cues). We play with a variety of toys that are meant to draw lots of language opportunities out and it's worked like a charm. I've also learned lots of little social games that are fun. I can barely keep up now with the changes in her! Best of all, for me, is that Little P wants to be with me now and no longer insists on playing alone (she used to run away from me every time I tried to insert myself into her play). She always wants me nearby (which is the normal thing) and we enjoy a warm and loving relationship filled with rewarding moments and fun. I can't tell you how special that is when you missed it for so long. Little P. is able to express herself, share, and include me in her games. It's such a gift. I've also figured out what sensory activities Little P. craves and have learned to discern when she needs them through the day. She can focus and engage so well after a little time in her swing or squeezing the Play Doh...as examples.
In honesty, I spent a lot of time in the past crying and wondering why my daughter didn't seem to care if I was around. It was hard on me after all the struggle we went through to have her. (and I mean that in the way that we went through so much before we were lucky enough to have her and it felt like we'd already "paid our dues" in terms of challenges...of course that's not how life works)I felt such a bond WITH her but didn't always feel it FROM her. It's not to say she disliked me, she just didn't know how to engage with me in meaningful ways all of the time. She definitely had moments of needing me, connecting and enjoying my company. It just wasn't a deep and constant connection most people enjoy naturally with their kids. Now, that problem is long gone and I say GOOD RIDDANCE! I'll admit, sometimes now I get a little down that I have had to work so hard to have all of this happen (and will likely continue to do so). This stuff comes naturally without effort for most kids, and that's just not the case for us. It's been another challenge in my life that left me wondering "Why us?" We did everything "right." (I've learned that our kids come with their own special gifts, struggles, strengths and challenges and it has nothing to do with us as parents unless we are abusers and it's certainly not our kids' fault either...it's just what IS) I'm tired a lot and some days I just can't put in the effort to do so much extra. But, in whole, discovering how to engage Little P has changed our lives so drastically and thrillingly and I just had to write it here and share in case anyone else is going through a similar thing. We've gone through the tunnel and are coming out the other side. We are still on the road. Right now, things are exactly as they need to be and I feel really grateful.
Over the next while, I plan to write some posts about some of the activities and strategies that have worked well with Little P and her being a late talker/having a speech delay and what has helped her engage and enjoy relationships with the people in her life. Any experts out there, please know that my words are in layman terms and in no way am I trying to be scientific in this space. I'm simply sharing what I've been doing in my own words and leaving it at that. There are plenty of reference websites that go into more medical and scientific detail. Also, we are still in this journey and I'm not a doctor so I can't say I am an expert or that Paige is totally caught up on all fronts. I simply want to share what we've been doing since there's not a ton of information out there for the parent besides "read to your child" and "narrate what you do all day." (While those are great things, I DID them and continue to do so...it just didn't make much of a difference for us since P. needed MORE).
So that's what we've been up to for the past several months. I debated about not writing about it all here, but it's very therapeutic for me to share and I feel so many people can relate to my feelings. Little P. is doing so much better to the point where I personally feel she's getting caught up to where she should be now or will be very soon, and because of this, I wanted to share with others who might be wondering about a possible speech delay in their own children. There ARE little things you can do to help... starting NOW while you wait for those evaluations and answers or for time to pass until you can know more. Every child is different, so I can only speak about what we are up to and hope it can spur on an idea or two for you.
Wow. That was a long freakin' post. Sorry. But it's been a lot. Please know that I've missed being here and sharing our adventures. We're in a much better place and I have lots to tell so I'll so you in this space again VERY soon! Be well!