Kids develop at their own pace. There are timelines in which we usually expect things to happen, like crawling, walking, talking, etc. Some kids skip a phase entirely, for example, Julian barely crawled before learning to walk. A kid that talks in 3-word sentences at 2 1/2 may have walked at 10 months old. It’s hard to tell when these milestones may occur.
Sometimes, kids hit milestones later than they should. This is due to a lot of factors- prematurity, lack of time with parent/caregiver helping them learn things, etc. I’ve also learned that sometimes delays happen for no reason at all. Lily has done things on her own time since the womb.
She wanted out at 31 weeks, but my OB stepped in and stopped her. The day after I reached 37 weeks, Lily had had enough and she was born later that day. Being three weeks early, she weighed in at 5 lbs, 12 oz, the smallest of my kids. I could pick her up with one hand for a month (not that I did). She wore preemie clothes for a couple of months. In 2008, preemie diapers were a pain to find and I was delighted when she finally grew out of them.
She has always been a great sleeper. As a baby, we could barely hear her crying because she was so quiet.Twelve years later, you can definitely hear her if she cries and she loves to sleep.Lily was a small baby and everyone loved cuddling and playing with her. Her brothers actually fought over who got to put her bottles in the sink to be washed. (They were 3 and 1 1/2 at the time.) It took some time before I realized that she wasn’t reaching her milestones.
I mentioned to her pediatrician at a checkup that I was worried because she wasn’t crawling, pointing to things she wanted and a few other things. I was given a phone number for an Early Intervention program, known locally as First Steps, and advised to schedule an evaluation.
The evaluation was the day before her first birthday. It broke my heart watching her struggle to do things she should have been able to do or at least try. As soon as the evaluator left, I burst into tears and cried through the next day. I knew something was wrong.
Lily turned one and started First Steps almost immediately after. She had physical, speech and occupational delays. This is also referred to as “global” delays. In her case, it was hard to tell what caused these delays. She wasn’t born early enough for that to be an issue. I took care of myself the best I could throughout the pregnancy- I worked full time and chased the boys around. After going into labor at 31 weeks, I basically sat and did nothing as my OB recommended, including going on light duty at work. I didn’t drink, do drugs or anything that could have harmed her. I was at a loss.
Lily had great therapists- I am still Facebook friends with Denise, her speech therapist. Denise was the only therapist that stayed the whole two years because Lily needed extensive speech therapy. The other two therapies lasted for about 6 months (physical) and a year (occupational). When she got to preschool, her teachers asked if she had ever recieved speech therapy because she talked so well. I explained that she did and that Denise did a great job.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows- Lily would throw herself on the floor because she was frustrated trying to talk. She hated the sensory suitcase that the OT brought to see what textures she could and couldn’t tolerate. When learning to run, she ran into her open bedroom door, cutting her forehead. There’s a scar, but she doesn’t remember how it got there!
Of course, during all this, Julian started showing behaviors that would later lead to his diagnosis. It was a rough time for all five of us and it almost led to the end of my marriage. I’m glad that I was able to get Lily what she needed. She is still seeing a dietician and will be starting OT again very soon, whenever the world opens up.
What Do I Do? How can I find help for my child?
As I said earlier, I talked to Lily’s pediatrician at a checkup, but you can call or email your child’s pediatrician whenever you think is necessary for this issue. Some pediatricians may take a “wait and see” approach but if you think it’s more serious, don’t be afraid to push for your baby to be seen.
Most, if not all states have programs that provide early intervention services to kids ages birth-three. The program in Louisville is First Steps. There’s an evaluation and a meeting afterward to discuss what may or may not be needed. If you don’t like the therapist you get, it’s easy to change. At three, your child is no longer able to receive these services and will be evaluated to see if they need to go to Head Start for more therapies or if they can be discharged and go to preschool.
Lily was evaluated a month before her third birthday and she aged out. She went to preschool that August.
I will say this as a mom who has been there: DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF. I did this for a long time, even after I knew that Lily’s delays were global and there wasn’t a reason for them. Just remember that you are doing the best you can, which is what really matters.
So what ARE the benefits?
- Obviously, getting early intervention services can help your child not get further behind in their development than they already may be. If you elect to not get services at all, this may mean a lifetime of difficulties for your child. There is no shame in getting your child assistance. It’s most effective when done early. Had I waited longer to get Lily into First Steps, or not done it at all, she would still be struggling with her speech. I just wish I had picked therapies back up a little earlier than I did.
- The therapist(s) come to you. This Discusses the legal requirement of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) of therapists coming into a child’s natural environment as much as possible. Children learn better when in a familiar place.
- You are involved in the team that works with your child. You get to say what services you do and do not want your child to receive.
- Therapists and others working with your child can help you get other services, should you need them.
- Your child can improve their skills at their pace and not feel rushed. The therapists can model what you may need to do between sessions.
There is something great about watching your child learn and grow through their therapies. Your child may need extra help, and this is okay. Your child will be better off having had early intervention.