If you follow me on my personal Facebook page or Instagram, you probably know that Beck has a speech delay and we've been doing speech therapy for several months, starting when he was 18 months old. I get so many questions about the delay from other mothers and it's a mixture of positive and negative feedback. I'm writing this to help shed some light on why we started, what therapy for us looks like, my personal feelings with coping with this delay and what we've experienced with questions from outsiders, friends and family.
It's only fitting that I start with the WHY. We started Beck with speech therapy because he (and both myself and my husband) were becoming extremely frustrated with the lack of communication. Beck wasn't able to verbalize what he wanted, how he felt or tell us any of his needs. Now you're probably thinking, 18 months is young and they don't have a ton of these skills anyways. Yes, that's true, however, Beck had 3 words (normal is 10-15) - none of which really helped him communicate with us. Instead of showing us what he wanted when guessing/showing him options, he would instead start screaming and also start to hit his head on the floor tiles or walls. Throwing himself and crazy tantrums were happening every hour. We were guessing at everything and if we guessed wrong, it would escalate and the head-smashing would start all over. THIS was the main reason I decided to take him in for an evaluation.
Before we started therapy, most people kept saying, "He'll talk when he wants to talk" or "Any day now he'll just start chatting your ear off" and the "He doesn't need therapy. He'll figure it out on his own." Deep down, I knew these comments were said to help make me feel better. However, I knew I needed outside help. Beck has always been more interested in running, jumping, climbing and exploring. He almost never sat down and was determined to do it all on his own. It made trying to teach him anything new really difficult. That's where therapy helped us; it gave me the tools to teach Beck and helped him understand the magic of communication.
Once we started therapy, the questions came pouring in. I've been asked if he has autism, if he's retarded (their word, not mine), has Aspergers and have had comments about how I must not have talked to him as much as I should have. I've been asked by other parents if their child has a speech delay and if I think there was anything that could have prevented Beck's delay from happening. Deep down, I would have loved to have an answer for them. There were days in the beginning that I felt that having an actual diagnosis would have given me some sort of relief so that we had an answer. A reason as to why he wasn't talking.
The comments and questions still burn and make me second-guess myself.
Yes, I've asked myself if there was something I could have done differently. Should we have done daycare instead? Or should we have hired a full-time nanny like we originally planned to do? Is it vaccine-injury related? Did he have too much screen time? Should I have pushed him harder to sit and babble with me? Am I capable of being a good mother? Why do I feel such jealousy and sadness when other children younger than my child have a better vocabulary than Beck? As I have talked to other parents and our therapist, I've come to the conclusion that these emotions are all normal. For any parent just starting out with therapy, it's normal to think and feel these things. I can't tell you how many times I called our therapist in tears, asking these questions. Asking her why. Trying to get a definitive answer. But the truth is, some children are just naturally delayed. They are more interested in other subjects, they are more stubborn or they simply aren't ready for it.
What therapy looks like for us: Our speech therapy is at a private clinic and we call it school. We have decided to not enroll in the public sector but aren't against it in the future, depending on how progress goes. We see the same therapist every week and Beck has grown to love her. He knows exactly what room we go to and gets very impatient waiting for it to be our turn to head back. I attend every therapy session - I don't sit in the waiting room. It's important to me that I can also be his therapist when we're at home; to encourage and keep implementing what he's learning "at school". That means it's important that I'm also part of the session: sitting on the floor with the therapist and my son, learning what I can be doing to help him learn sounds, pushing him in a way that is beneficial for his growth, asking questions, getting advice, and setting goals to meet for the rest of the week. Our session is 30 minutes and Beck sees it as a play date. They have different toys we don't have at home and I've decided to not duplicate those toys at home so that he stays interested while at school. We will occasionally bring in his backpack filled with toys he's picked out from home that he's really obsessed with but typically, we never open it because he's so excited about the other "new" options.
At first, the goal was to simply get him to express a want or need by signing or saying "me". To do this, we found a motivator (for him, it was food) and we would sign "me" while saying it and then take his hand and do hand-over-hand for "me". It took two weeks of dedicated hard work to get him to sign it. After that, we started pushing for a verbal me. It was hard and at times, extremely frustrating, but the progress and seeing his frustrations lift was worth it. We used that "me" as a building block; he now understood that by communicating with us, he could get his wants and needs fulfilled. We are now able to say words and use an "expressive" hand gesture by our lips to show him what the sounds "looks" like - which is the best way I can explain it (but I'm sure there is a more scientific term for this). Beck points to his mouth when he says words and will copy our hand gestures when it's a more difficult sound that we're trying to teach him. We also sign different words like "potty," "more," and "all done" even though he can now speak these words. Consistency has been key for Beck.
Our close friends and family members that see and watch Beck often also know to prompt him before meeting his needs. This consistency has really helped him grow his communication skills and he now speaks words without any prompts. He loves telling people "hi" and "bye" and has also started adding phrases like "are you" (for "how are you") and "bye, see" for (bye, see you). He asks for things like "wawa" and "nanas" "bruh tee" (brush teeth). His understanding of what we are speaking to him has drastically improved as well. The head smashing has stopped. We still have tantrums, but they are now more "normal" tantrums like when we tell him he can't jump off the dining room table and that he needs to get down. We've been able to start teaching him body parts, he can put things away or give objects to people when asked and will occasionally say "mama" (this is probably the biggest win for me personally).
The more wins and accomplishments we have, the better I feel about his delay. Although Beck is still very delayed for his age, the progress we've made in 6 months is outstanding. There are still days I feel extremely discouraged of course, but I try to remind myself that Beck is struggling, trying and learning every single day. We're all allowed good and bad days, even our littles, so I've found that growing my patience and keeping a realistic view on goals (and sometimes not meeting them) has been a virtue.
If you have questions or any experiences of your own, please drop them in the comments below.