Being a mom is hard — especially being a first-time mom. There are so many things to worry about: breast-feeding or formula, cloth diapers or disposable, day care or stay at home, vax or no vax, bed-sharing or crib, cry it out or pick them up, spanking or no spanking. You get the idea.
Then there are the milestones. You worry if your child developing on time and freak out if they're not meeting them, and you think it's your fault if they don't. Every mom has worried if she's somehow messed up her kid.
When I found out I was pregnant, I joined a baby website that had a plethora of information, as well as message boards and groups. One of the groups I joined was made up of other women who were due in the same month. While it was helpful to talk to other women going through their pregnancy at the same time, once our babies were born the competition began. Everyone was trying to outdo one another with how advanced their child was.
I was happy that my daughter, Tallulah, was either a little early or right on time meeting her milestones. That is, until it came time for her to talk. Most babies have started making sounds and "cooing" by about three months old. They continue to build from there, with most children beginning to say their first words around 1 year. This was not the case with Tallulah.
I'd decided even before having her that I was going to teach her baby sign language because I'd been told it helps cut down on frustration when children are learning to speak, since they can communicate their needs when unable to verbalize them. I started with signing at four months old, not expecting her to be able to do the signs yet, but rather that so she recognized the words and the signs associated with them.
Tallulah started signing at about seven months old, but I started to get worried when she was barely vocalizing. At her 1-year-old check-up, I asked her doctor about it, and she said that since Tallulah obviously was understanding language and signing, we shouldn't worry about it just yet. She was also very alert and had good eye contact, so her doctor said to continue signing to her as well as talking to her as much as possible.
When she still wasn't saying anything by 16 months old, I started to worry that there was something definitely wrong. After talking to some of the moms on the message boards and doing some research, I found out about a program that provides free testing for children 3 and under who have developmental issues. My husband and mother-in-law kept telling me there was nothing to worry about, but I told them that it didn't hurt to get her evaluated and that if they said she was fine, great, but if she needed extra help, we could get it.
The evaluation team came to my house and did a number of developmental tests. Tallulah passed with flying colors until it came to speech. While she understood more than most kids her age, she failed in vocalization — by a lot.
Her lack of speech qualified her for services, and we started speech therapy at 18 months. Her speech therapist would come over for an hour once a week. After a few months, Tallulah was still building on her sign language but wasn't talking or even trying to. With the help of her pediatrician and the team of therapists, it was determined that autism wasn't an issue.
That's when her therapist brought up childhood apraxia of speech. I'd never heard of it before and had no idea what it was.
Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder. Children with CAS have problems saying sounds, syllables, and words. Essentially, the brain has difficulty planning to move the body parts (e.g., lips, jaw, tongue) needed for speech. The child knows what he or she wants to say, but his/her brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words. Some children are able to speak with some issues and continue extensive speech therapy for many years, and some never speak and use computers to help communicate.
According to the therapist, the only other child she'd worked with who had as much of a delay as my daughter was still barely talking at 5 years of age. This terrified me, but the jury was still out on whether or not CAS was what we were dealing with.
My husband still wasn't willing to admit there was an issue, and it made it more difficult to get him to help with the follow-through at home. She wasn't going to start talking only using the speech therapist one hour a week; I had to build on that and be consistent in trying to help her make sounds.
She loved books, so I used that to my advantage. For example, we would look at her books and I'd say, "What does the cow say? Moo." Our hard work started to pay off as she made small noises, such as animal sounds or the beginning sounds of words. She still wasn't anywhere near where she needed to be, but at least she was making some sounds. But I continued to worry about my daughter not being able to speak well and communicate verbally with others.
At 2 and a half years old, she finally said her first two words: Up, mama. I cried.
By the time she turned 3, she had very limited words, and the ones she could say were very difficult to understand. She aged out of the program at 3, but we were able to continue speech therapy through the school system.
Since she was going to be receiving services through the school system, she would need to have an IEP, or individualized education program, which is a written statement of the program designed to meet a specific child's individual needs. (Every child who receives special-education services must have an IEP.) My husband didn't want Tallulah to continue speech therapy because he said she was doing fine and didn't want her labeled as "special needs." I ignored him and pursued continuing therapy for her.
When I met her new speech therapist at school, we instantly clicked, and Tallulah was comfortable with her from the start. I'd been in all of her sessions in the past, but at school she would go with her teacher by herself so she wouldn't be focused on me. We had such slow progress in the first couple of months, and I was getting discouraged, but her therapist said to just keep working with her at home — that even though the progress was slow, there was, in fact, progress.
When we came back after winter break, it was as though someone flipped a switch in Tallulah; she went from barely speaking two-word sentences and being difficult to understand to speaking in five- and six-word sentences and being much easier to understand. She kept going to speech therapy until her fourth birthday, at which point she was now speaking ahead of kids her age. CAS was officially ruled out.
Her teacher graduated her from the program and said she was one of her best students and that my work with her made such a difference. Her teacher cried that day because she'd grown to love her so much but was also happy with all the progress she'd made. Everyone Tallulah meets can't believe she had a severe speech delay because she now speaks so well and has such a large vocabulary.
She just started kindergarten and was placed in the advanced class. I know her life could have been so different if she'd had apraxia, and it upsets me that her first therapist had me convinced my daughter may never talk. Today, she's always asking me questions and pondering all of life's mysteries, but my favorite sentence she says will always be "I love you, Mommy."