My son is nearly five, and countless times each day I tell him to be quiet, to stop talking, to slow down, to listen. He shares his dreams, his imagination, his loves, his heart, his fears, and his questions. He says, “I love you, Mommy,” multiple times a day. A normal life, right?
Not four years ago.
By the time our son turned a year old, we had some inkling that things weren’t entirely as they should be. He was having some eating difficulties and wasn’t gaining weight the way he should. He had sensitivities to textures that led to throwing up several times a week. And he wasn’t babbling the way our daughter had.
When I mentioned these behaviors to others, I often heard words that were meant to reassure – “It’s because he’s a boy … he’s the second child … your daughter speaks for him … my brother didn’t speak until he was five and now he’s a lawyer…”, etc. But in my mother-heart, I knew something was off.
I turned to the Internet and found a survey from Easter Seals that promised to offer suggestions based on my evaluation of my child. The response I got – to speak with his pediatrician about possible delays – confirmed that at least I was on the right track.
We ended up getting a referral for screening from South Carolina’s Early Intervention program, BabyNet, when he was sixteen months old, and within another month we began receiving services for significant delays in the area of communication. My son was communicating on the level of a seven-month-old, I was told. Our journey had begun.
This month, at nearly five years old, our son was dismissed from speech services at our local public school. He has met all of his speech goals and no longer qualifies for services. We had thought at one point he would need speech therapy well into his elementary school years, so for him to be dismissed while still in preschool, is thrilling to us.
I know every child’s journey is different, and there are many factors that have influenced the progress our son has made, but I am confident that a major one was having Early Intervention services.
Here are some ways EI helped our son and our family, and why I am such a proponent of making use of them as quickly as possible when you suspect any kind of developmental delay.
1. It validated my fears and concerns. Finally, I had “proof” that I was not just imagining things and that I was right about our son needing help.
2. The program provided weekly assistance. Every week, an early intervention worker from a local agency came to our door and spent an hour or so working with our son. Sure, I was there and was intensely involved in that therapy, but I was not in charge. Someone else was there to help, and that made a huge difference. We were not alone. We had a team.
3. Additional resources were available. Along with the early interventionist, being under the BabyNet umbrella meant that we were eligible for other services too. Only a month after beginning EI, we added in-home weekly speech therapy appointments to his schedule, and then twice-weekly when we did not see enough progress being made.
4. We created connections with other families going through the same thing. Our EI kept us informed about events for parents and children going on in our area where we could connect with others dealing with similar delays. It helped us to know that we were not alone. Also, because of the speech therapist (which was thanks to having EI), we heard the term “apraxia” early on as a possible diagnosis. This enabled me to connect online and locally with other parents dealing with the same issues.
5. There were avenues for additional testing. Even though we suspected nothing, we pursued genetic testing early on “just in case” and because BabyNet covered that as an expense. Even the geneticists thought it would mostly be to eliminate options, not to find a problem. Imagine their surprise, and ours, when testing revealed something called a “microdeletion” on one of our sons chromosomes – something that could not have even been detected ten years ago. And, lo and behold, it is associated with speech delays, as well as eating issues in infancy. Suddenly everything from his early years fell into place. So that’s why. Not because I babied him too much or breastfed too exclusively, or anything else I was using to heap possible blame on myself. There was a reason. I felt like a load was lifted from my shoulders.
6. It was an easier transition to public school services. When he was three, our son “aged out” of EI, but still needed services. So, we transitioned to the speech therapy program in our public school. What could have been a confusing and frustrating process of knowing who to talk to and how to make the right things happen in the right order, was handled by others who were advocating for our son. EI ended one week and public school speech started the next.
7. It provided a head start on helping my child. We began EIS when my son was 16 months old and were in it for 20 months without a break before beginning public school services. That meant we were sixty appointments AHEAD of where we would have been if we had waited until he was three, and three and a half YEARS ahead of where we would have been if we had just hung in there and waited until he was school age to begin anything. Might he have overcome some of it without speech? Maybe. There is no way to know, but I am confident that starting earlier with regular, systematic and caring assistance at least sped things up and may have even saved us years of dealing with this in elementary school.
8. It cost us … nothing. Yes, you heard me right. Those sixty appointments during his EI years? FREE! Covered by taxpayer expenses (you and me) as an investment in this youngest generation. I do not take that lightly, and in a time when there is a lot of talk about governmental waste, I am so thankful for the taxpayer-sponsored programs that are working the way they should.
If you are a parent concerned about your child’s developmental milestones, I strongly encourage you to contact BabyNet. Don’t be afraid of a diagnosis or label, because that is what can get your child help. And don’t be afraid of being wrong either. It costs nothing to go through the screening and the peace of mind it can give you, whatever the results, is priceless. And if you are right, you will get the services your child needs to soar!