When it comes to child development, why do we worry so much? If our babies don’t crawl by 9-ish months or say a word by 12-ish months, we perseverate on the question “why not?”; our minds are quickly create lists of the very unlikely, alarming possible answers. Well I did anyway. My first daughter was very slow to achieve gross motor milestones. Although I knew that she was hypermobile and on the lower side of normal when it came to muscle tone, I was concerned that I was missing something. The potential of a larger, underlying problem chased me. The idea of a diagnosis isn’t what kept me from sleeping, it was the idea my possible ignorance was causing her to miss a “window of opportunity” for early identification and intervention. This struggle is common in mama conversations. Deep-rooted concerns are inevitably stated: “What if something is wrong? ” or “What if they aren’t normal?”.
For years, the terms “wrong” and “normal” in a conversation about children have left me unsettled. Only now am I beginning to gain perspective on their colloquial use and why they have left me with a pervasive sense of injustice. I was telling my husband about my struggle with the terms “normal”, and “wrong”. He is quite a wise guy and responded with “the intent of the term is the important part”. I have thought about this a lot. Do we then simply mean, “I hope my child doesn’t have a life-threatening condition that this developmental delay happens to be the first sign of.” Or “I hope my child doesn’t get made fun of in school because she doesn’t run like the other kids.” Or “I hope my child is able to communicate with her peers to develop meaningful relationships so she is not lonely.”
Since having kids and participating in all kinds of infant, toddler and preschooler activities, I have come to better understand the spectrum of variance within “normal development”. This is written with caution because I don’t want to take away from the importance of early identification and intervention when development isn’t tickety-boo.
My perspective is influenced by a therapist familiarity with the road less travelled, developmentally speaking. The intent of these thoughts is to take away from how challenging it must be to raise a child with a disability. I really do think of it as “different” or “atypical” rather than “wrong”. The definition of wrong is: not correct or not true. There is nothing incorrect or not true about a child with cerebral palsy , or a child with down syndrome, or a child with autism. It’s soul-searching scary, but not wrong. It’s wrong when there is a hole connecting your breathing and feeding tubes… survival is not possible without surgery. It’s wrong when your lips are blue because your body can’t get enough oxygen. It’s not wrong if you have low muscle tone and take longer to learn to move. It’s not wrong if you have trouble learning and have to be taught in a different way. It’s not wrong if you need extra time because you are really shy and anxious in a new setting. It’s not wrong that your toddler has to run a lap around the parking lot to be able to sit still for circle time.
If you are worried about development, talk to someone. Follow your gut. Ask the questions. The answer is not going to change who your baby is, nor their strengths or weaknesses. I know this is easy for me to say without walking the walk myself…..the upside of a diagnosis is that it can help access therapy/funded services that your child may not otherwise receive.
There are so many developmental charts in the internet. If you’d like to know what to expect from a reputable source…check out Caring for Kids. This is the parent friendly extension of the Canadian Pediatric Society. It is a great source for many parenting questions.
A speech language pathologist friend recently reminded me of another resource called TALK BOX. Check it out for some guidelines regarding speech and language skills (under “Talking and Listening Checklist”), as well as some ideas for activities that will help you create a language-rich environment at home.
Start with your GP if you have one. If he/she doesn’t listen, keep searching. Early Intervention Programs. Child Development Centre in Calgary. Glenrose in Edmonton. Get help.
There are also private therapy options if you wish to go that route. Contact me if you need more specific information, I am more than happy to help. Not only is it good to get help for assessment purposes, it can give you some tools to enrich your child’s environment and maximize their learning.
If you’re not ready to ask for help from a health professional, talk to your husband/partner, talk to your mama friends, talk to your mom. Get it out there. You need support too.
A couple of gems from our week…..