Coping with a speech delay in your child’s development can be a huge challenge.
It’s hard when all your friends are telling you about their babies and toddlers talking and having conversations, but your own child is hardly saying any words.
This is exactly the case with our Monster. He is already four years old but he speaks like a two-year old.
While he is slowly but surely showing progress with his communication, there are still challenges we face every day. We sometimes struggle to understand what he says and wants, and because of this, there is a delay in fulfilling his needs.
Here are some tips to help you with coping through these times:
Recognise and accept that you didn’t cause the delay.
This is a tough step as the first thing we tend to do is blame ourselves, because as parents, we are responsible for making sure our children are developing, learning and blooming in life.
When we first ‘diagnosed’ that Monster had a speech delay, we had no struggles with finding faults in our ourselves as parents. Maybe we didn’t talk enough to him? Or read enough? Or used baby talk for a little longer than needed?
No. The speech delay was caused by circumstances that were out of my control. It doesn’t make us bad parents.
Recognise and accept that your child’s lack of speech doesn’t define him/her.
A speech delay doesn’t define your child.
Monster is on track or ahead with some development milestones, which aren’t affected in any way by his speech delay. Monster’s excessive language skills just aren’t developed yet to the extent they should be, and while we work hard to improve them, they don’t define the energetic and curious spirit inside him.
Find others ways to communicate with your child.
While you’re working on improving your child’s speech delay, you’ll need to find other means of communication so you can understand each other.
Sign language has been proven as a useful tool to use. Of course, you don’t need to teach your child the entire dictionary, but basic signs for thirst, hunger or tired.
We didn’t try to teach Monster sign language. Instead, we pointed out to objects that he knew how to recognise and he would nod or shake his head in response. It really helped us with understanding what he wanted, which in turn created less tantrums and frustration (on both sides).
Don’t treat your child differently.
This is something I had to work on. See, when we first ‘diagnosed’ that there was such a huge gap in his speech development, I felt like I needed to protect him from hardships and let him take it easy. I let him have his way most of the times. Most of the times I did this because I didn’t want him becoming frustrated and throwing tantrums, and in turn, causing me to possibly lose my cool.
I wanted to do everything for him because I doubted that he might not understand what I was instructing him to do.
Biggest mistake ever. At some stage, I realised that he was acting out even more than usual. I wasn’t just coddling Monster, I was taking away his independence. Don’t treat your child differently; don’t baby him/her. Don’t feel sorry for them to such an extent that you might actually do more damage than repair.
Accept that developing speech is a work in progress.
The improvement you seek to see, and hear, won’t come overnight. While some children, once finding their pace, catch on quickly and improve their speech to the extent required, others take a little longer. Some children may need to have speech therapy for many years to ‘catch up’. Don’t give up. Acknowledge the progress made and be proud of that.
Follow your instincts and trust your own parenting skills.
Before we had a ‘proper’ diagnoses made, we were referred to a speech therapist to have Monster evaluated. After only an hour of evaluating him, the therapist classified him as Autistic and not on the lowest side of the spectrum, and instructed us to move him to a special need’s school immediately. We walked out of her office, with more than we had prepared ourselves for. However, a tiny voice in my head told me to seek out a second opinion. Which we did a few months later, and we then had the right answers.
We also found on that the therapist we were referred to was a speech therapist only who specialised in special needs children so she evaluated only on the basis to look out for signs associated with faults in her field, and nothing else.
If you’re really worried, see a specialist.
When we had Monster evaluated the second time and knew where we stood, we found a therapist that could help him. Monster also has low muscle tone so we specifically looked for an occupational therapist. However, she also assists with his speech development. He has been with this therapist for a few months now and the progress he is making is amazing.
If you feel you’re not coping with helping to develop your child’s speech, find a specialist that can assist you. Progress does come easier when the ‘problem’ is identified at an early age which also gives for more time to prepare for school years. Monster has an hour session once a week with the therapist, as well as homework sent to us to keep up the lessons until his next session.
Don’t compare your child to others.
This is goes for everything, not just speech development. As parents, we tend to compare our children with others. Are they cleaning up after themselves? Are they shorter or taller? Do they read as well as their friends?
You will drive yourself crazy, and not just yourself but your child as well.Every child is different, and every child has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Recognise this, and you’ll find it easier to cope with the speech delay or any other issue that comes up.
Fuck what others say or think.
I am tired of the looks some people give us. The looks of “ag shame”. You know, feeling sorry for us and for Monster. I sometimes feel like screaming out, “He’s not dying! Stop looking at him like that!”
I’m tired of repeating the two-hour story of how we got to where we are with him today, but I feel like I might allow people to misunderstand the situation if I don’t go over all the details. I’ve learned to make peace with this. People won’t always understand, and people will even treat your child differently, which is the opposite of what we should all be doing. People will need to accept the short and sweet of Monster’s story, and if they misunderstand or misinterpret something due to preconceived notions, that’s their problem. Not yours.
You can find a little more background to Monster’s story here: The Nightmare of School K
What do you do to cope with a speech delay in your child?