I remember the day that I realized something wasn’t right.
I was a first-time mom to a 19-month-old little boy and I knew he was perfect. We were at a play date with one of my friends from college and her son who was a few months younger. The boys were looking at a book together and the other child pointed to a picture of a baby and very clearly said “baby”. I watched my friend, waiting for her amazement at his clarity and pronunciation but it didn’t come.
As they kept turning pages, he pointed at a few more pictures and very clearly announced the words. A little further down, there was a picture of one of my son’s favorite things, a banana. I watched him and he pointed to it and shouted “daDAda!”
When I got home and had time to reflect, I knew that I had been expecting this day to come. It isn’t a day that any parent dreams of: the day when she realizes her child is behind. I brought my concerns up to a few family members who were quick to make comments like “oh, boys talk later than girls”, and the ever-popular story about a distant friend of a relative’s co-worker who was silent until age 6 and ended up at Yale. Meanwhile, my son kept calling me “dada”. According to Google, he should have been using between 10 and 50 words and he totally was! The only problem was that they were all “dada” and the only way to distinguish Mickey Mouse from night-night was by his inflection.
We brought it up with his pediatrician at his 2-year-old check-up a few months later. His pediatrician advised us to give it six months. He said a lot could change in six months. He said all kids develop differently. I had to decide if my concerns were based on my desires for him to be at the top of his peer group, or if I was genuinely concerned. When I thought about those six months that the doctor wanted us to wait, I felt uncomfortable.
I could imagine him in speech therapy for those months, knowing that by the time our next appointment arrived, he could be speaking in sentences and I knew I couldn’t sit back and wait. It was difficult to stand up for my child, but at his baby brother’s 2 week check-up the next month, I watched myself step up as his advocate. I told the doctor I wanted a referral to a speech therapist.
That day changed things for me. I realized that I couldn’t always rely on the experts to know what was best for my son. I realized that “mom instinct” is real. And I realized that it was my job to be his advocate. He couldn’t tell me that he was frustrated about not being able to ask his grandma to read his favorite book again or that he really was trying to repeat words, his mouth just wasn’t cooperating. It was my job to do the research, and ask friends and family and the experts, but then I had to weigh that against my knowledge of my son and his capabilites.
Three short months after he started speech, he was sitting next to me at a Fazoli’s and he looked right at me, pursed his lips together and called me “mommy” for the first time and as the tears rolled down my face, I knew that I had made the right choice.