By the time my third child Hayden was about 15 months old, I couldn’t help but notice he had yet to really say any words.
At his 12-month checkup when the pediatrician asked the usual milestone questions and inquired about babbling and cooing, I confidently said he was a happy and cheerful babe who tried to initiate interaction with smiles and giggles but had yet to really pick up on the babbling or even common “mama” and “dada” utterances.
He had already proven to be a bit slower paced on hitting the milestones, having never rolled over much and not crawling until he was over 11 months old, so we figured there wasn’t much to worry about.
But by 15 months, I started to grow a bit more concerned. He would say “mama” and “dada” on occasion, but that was about it. Everyone from family to friends and even complete strangers assured me that he would talk when he was ready, and their common answer for why he wasn’t talking yet was birth order. As the third child with two siblings five and seven years older than him, they repeated over and over that “he didn’t need to talk because he had a brother and sister to talk for him.” An otherwise super-content baby, I reluctantly accepted this as the most plausible answer. That is, until he reached 18 months old and nothing had progressed.
I still remember the exact moment I decided to look into intervention. A friend had sent me a video text of her baby, just 8 weeks older than Hayden, singing along to a song we both liked. The baby’s speech, while far from perfect, was light-years ahead of Hayden’s. I called finally decided to call the pediatrician and ask how to proceed.
I learned that in California, we have a state run program called Regional Center that’s set up to help infants and toddlers with speech, occupational, and physical therapy needs. After a short wait, I was connected to a Regional Center representative in my county who set me up with an in-home evaluation right there on the spot. While wait times vary from county to county, I considered us very lucky to have an appointment set in just two weeks time.
The rep came out to our home and spent some time with our family, asking questions, distributing paperwork, and evaluating Hayden. The session lasted about an hour and then the rep went to the board to present the case. Depending on whether they decided Hayden had a need for therapy, they’d either get us set up with a therapist who would come to our home (this is for more severe cases) or we’d meet at their office.
By the time all was said and done, from the day Hayden was initially evaluated to the day he was approved for services, we had our first appointment with a speech therapist when he was just shy of 22 months old. All in all, the whole process took just over three months.
The first few sessions with the speech therapists were really for them to get acquainted and get Hayden comfortable with the process. After a few meetings, they then assessed his needs and indicated where he was fitting in developmentally.
It turns out that at 23 months old, he was developmentally at a 9-month-old speech level.
I was both heartbroken for him and also relieved. In a way I felt vindicated because I had trusted my gut, and it turned out my gut was right. He was indeed developmentally delayed, and sure, eventually he would have started talking, but who knows how long that would have taken and how much farther behind he would have fallen.
We set off on an intense path of speech therapy, including 1-hour private sessions each week and daily homework and exercises. After a few sessions, we were all happy to find that cognitively and physically there was nothing wrong with Hayden. He understood what we were talking about, could follow commands and interact, and there was nothing wrong with his hearing, tongue, or vocal cords. The therapists said that at this point, his problem was strictly behavioral; he was choosing not to talk.
With this new information, we as the family members were given the difficult task of not responding to his wants and needs with simple grunts and points; we could only respond if he attempted to speak. I braced myself for many tantrums, but surprisingly, after just a few days he began attempting to “use his words,” and we found him genuinely trying to talk more.
During his sessions, both of his therapists made their time together fun and hid the speech work among interesting games and interactions. Essentially, they had to get him to think talking was all his idea instead of seeing it as something we were forcing him to do. Within weeks we started seeing real progress. While often unintelligible, he was attempting to name and label almost everything he came into contact with and started regularly using phrases like “please,” “more,” and “all done.”
When he was evaluated after just two months of therapy, he was using over 50 words in constant rotation and was starting to put two words together, a major leap in speech development. He had moved from the developmental level of a 9-month-old to an 18-month-old, almost twice where he was before. Beyond just the actual progress of building his vocabulary, we also saw changes in his personality; he flourished with excitement each time he learned a new word because he was now able to label and interact with us more and more. He was already a happy baby, but now he was excited and even more interested in exploring his world.
Hayden’s speech therapy continues, and while we have now lost track of how many words he has in his arsenal, we haven’t lost track of how far we’ve come in such a short time.
Sure, I have no doubt that eventually Hayden would have started talking on his own. But through early intervention and with the help of trained professionals who could make the process both fun and meaningful, we’ve given our boy a chance to interact with us, and his world, in a whole new, richer way. It’s exciting for all of us, and I’m so glad I didn’t ignore my gut on this one.More On