Imagine not being able to communicate what it is you want to eat. Imagine being so frustrated that nobody understands you, that you lash out in anger. You begin to throw things, hit, push, you name it, all because you don’t know how to verbally express your emotions or wants. Better yet, imagine that you are the mother of a child who like this. Imagine her looking up to you so frustrated and screaming, because she can’t communicate her wants, needs, or feelings to you. Imagine not knowing how to communicate that everything is going to be ok as you try to hold a thrashing toddler in your arms. Just imagine that.
How do you feel?
I feel completely lost and helpless throughout the day. I wish more than anything to be able to ease my daughters frustration. To hear her run to me and call me mama. To have a day where I’m not being hit or cleaning up yet another mess caused from her frustration. I feel such a deep love for this sweet baby girl. I feel gratuity from all the things she has taught me through no words at all. I feel scared when I think about the possibility of her never learning to talk. I worry about the quality of life she will have when I can’t be there 24/7 for her. I feel frustrated because I can’t get through to her and she can’t get through to me. I feel lost in a such a vocal world. I feel protective of this innocent person who truly needs me.
What do you do?
I educate myself and my family. I begin to learn sign language so that we can have a way to communicate with her. I create visuals of her favorite items, and keep them by the pantry and fridge, so that she can learn to point to the object that she wants. Most importantly I get her help. I sign her up for speech, play, and early intervention therapies. I take it one day at a time and cherish those improvements, no matter how small. I reach out and help her during play dates. I advocate so that other mamas are educated. I take deep breaths during moments of intense frustration. I read picture books to her. I hold her in my arms and tell her that mama is here for her. I love her unconditionally.
Autism and Speech Delay
When it comes to speech delay and autism, they often times go hand in hand. One of the biggest signs of a possible autism diagnosis is the presence of a speech delay, or a show of speech regression. An 18 month old should be able to communicate through single-2 word phrases. They should be able to appropriately identify mama and dada and be able to imitate some sounds. Piper could do none of these things.
We went through all the channels to try and figure out why our daughter was not speaking. With one child diagnosed with autism, I wasn’t going to let this blow over and assume she’s just a late bloomer–like so many people suspected. After numerous positive hearing screens, pediatrician visits, early intervention visits, and speech assessments, we finally had a plan in place. I urged for speech and early intervention to start right away. I just knew something wasn’t right, she just wasn’t progressing in her speech.
By the time her second birthday came around, Piper was still not using any words to communicate. With an obvious speech delay, combined with other traditional autism characteristics, we took her in to see a specialist. We were not surprised by the autism diagnosis, but now with the diagnosis written down, we can pursue other therapies.
Having a speech delay can greatly hinder the development of other aspects in a child’s life. As an infant, and young child, children use imitation as their greatest form of learning. A speech delay combined with autism, has a negative impact on how a child imitates. Social development, cognitive development, as well as motor development can also be affected by a speech delay/autism diagnosis. Which is why getting a jump on therapeutic practices quickly and early is so imperative.
There are numerous types of therapies out there for speech delay and autism, as well as numerous types of practices that you can use at home. To date, these are the ones that we regularly use, or are on a waiting list for.
Common therapies for speech delay and autism
ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis)
Occupational Therapy/Sensory OT
Token Boards (for positive reinforcement)
Visual Aids (for communication)
When you have a child with any disability, consistency is key. You need to consistently work to communicate. You need to consistently use the tools that you will learn in therapy at home. You need to educate those around you and your child, so that they can better help as well. Your child will depend on that consistency and support in order for them to develop and learn.
At the end of the day, when you are exhausted, and wondering if there will ever come a time where she will speak–let alone call you mama–it is important to remember to just breathe. There will be good days. Every sound she makes, every verbal or nonverbal attempt to communicate is a step forward. Take these small progresses and celebrate them. Let her know how proud you are of her. Let her know how loved she is through hugs and squeezes. Network around you, and build yourself a safe support group. Educate everyone you know, to help raise awareness.
Above all else, take each moment, each day and each night, and make the best out of them, because it’s the hotmesses that will make the lasting memories.