If you’re in any parenting forums online, you know that every third post from a new parent is in regard to concerns about development, especially when it comes to a speech delay. It’s a natural concern because delays could indicate major problems, right? Well-meaning moms and dads reassure that every child develops at their own pace, the child will be fine, and other parents/family members who mentioned a concern need to mind their own business. I am the mom who reads the post and thinks, “It might not be okay. Your child could be like my child, and you could be at the start of a road you never expected to take.”
Now don’t get me wrong, children do develop on their own individual timelines, and most of those timelines are typical. But some aren’t. My 6-year-old daughter has a motor and speech delay, and without going into a medical history (which would be a LONG post), suffice it to say I’m an authority on a child who doesn’t follow a typical timeline.
Parenting a Child with a Speech Delay
Whether your children are typically developing or are following a different developmental path, we all have our challenges – yours are different than mine. But if you have a friend or family member who has a child with special needs, please keep reading. Navigating this world is lonely and a constant battle (both internally and externally). Here’s some insight into that world.
- I’m excited for your child’s progress, but my heart breaks a little bit each time I hear about it. My twin nieces are 6 weeks younger than my daughter, and my sister and I had a tough time navigating through their developmental successes. She had been keeping me in the loop, but then I learned they took their first steps and she didn’t tell me. I was crushed. She didn’t want to tell me because she knew it would make me sad, but I explained that just because it hurt that my daughter wasn’t there yet (and at that point, I wasn’t sure she’d ever walk), I wanted to celebrate my nieces’ successes. So don’t cut me out, but know that I’m going to have an emotional war raging inside of me when you tell me.
- Just listen. If I open up to you about the last doctor’s appointment, test, therapy session, or small success my child had, for the love of all that’s holy, just listen. Please do not tell me about a friend who had a child with special needs or take the opportunity to brag on your own child. There is a time for that. When I’m telling you something private about my struggles, that’s not the time.
- Stop asking how you can help. I will never respond by telling you how you can help because I don’t want to be a burden. But you know what you can do? You can tell me you’d like to come babysit on Friday night so my husband and I can go out on a date. Because our marriage may be strained close to the point of breaking because…
- The divorce rate is higher for parents of children with special needs. It’s not because of the child, but it may be because of the stresses associated with each person differently processing this life we’re living that we didn’t anticipate. The more time parents of children with special needs can spend together rekindling their relationship, the better they are able to weather the storm.
- Don’t give me advice. Sorry, but if you are not living this life, you don’t get to tell me how to manage it. It’s as simple as this – if I only have girls, I can’t have a qualified opinion on how to raise boys. I can have an opinion, of course, but it’s not a qualified So I should keep it to myself.
- I love my child as much as you do. I may have days of struggling with her diagnosis or challenges, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love her for who she is. My child is an extraordinary blessing, and I’m not minimizing that by feeling the pressures associated with her unique challenges.
- Don’t make assumptions about my child or my parenting based upon how she looks or behaves. My daughter “looks normal” but will not answer a question if you ask her. I have a friend who has a child with cerebral palsy, and while his body doesn’t work, his brain is sharp as a tack. Don’t stare at either child trying to figure out what’s “wrong” with them, and please, when my child is throwing a fit on the floor or sobbing in the grocery store, don’t give me the evil eye because you think I’m just a bad parent. I’ve got enough going on – your judgments are not helpful.
We are all doing the best we can navigating the waters of being a parent. Hopefully, this insight into a world that is different than yours will help you better understand how to support someone who is walking this path, as well.
Next time you read a post on a parenting forum from a concerned parent who notices that her child seems to be delayed in movement, speech, etc., don’t just reply that the child will be fine. Encourage the parent to visit her pediatrician just to discuss concerns. Your comment could be the nudge that parent needed to validate her mom-instinct and start getting early intervention if it’s necessary. Every child deserves the best chance at succeeding and destigmatizing “special needs” is a very important first step.