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A Mother Knows

When a child's late talking, walking or crawling is a bit too late...

When my son's first birthday approached, and I was preparing to return to work, I typed a list of his words to give our nanny, in case she needed help with the translation. Right after my twin daughters' first birthday, one girl started repeating, and remembering, every word we spoke. Her twin, however, said nothing.

At the girls' 15-month check-up, I mentioned that daughter's wordlessness to the doctor. She wasn't particularly concerned.

At the girls' 18-month check-up, I again mentioned her lack of speech. While my doctor was a little more concerned, she said she wouldn't really worry about the unintelligible babbling until the twins' second birthday. But if I didn't want to wait, I could contact my county's Infants & Toddlers program and ask to have my daughter assessed.

Within a few weeks a speech pathologist was at my house, asking me questions and putting my daughter through play-oriented tests. The speech pathologist determined that, yes, the child had a speech/ language delay and would qualify for free services. “I was right,” I thought to myself, smugly. “Good thing I didn't listen to the doctor and wait.” She then explained that in order to receive county services, a child needs to be at least 25 percent behind in three or more areas of development. My daughter, I was informed, was behind in four. That, I didn't expect. And that's when I realized I was dealing with more than just a late talker.

Because my other two children developed on schedule, and in some areas ahead of schedule, I never considered the seriousness of being a late talker, or a late walker, or a non-crawler, or the myriad other developmental milestones on the checklist of babyhood. I had heard tales from other parents about kids who didn't say a word until they were three or walk until 18 months but, one day, suddenly started speaking in complete sentences and sprinting through supermarket aisles.

By the tone of the speech pathologist's voice, and the follow-up evaluation we had with her supervisor, I was soon made to understand that my daughter wasn't simply a late-bloomer. At age 19 months, she was testing as a nine- to 12-month-old.

The county we lived in enrolled my daughter in an Infants & Toddlers preschool, which met for 90 minutes three times a week. The class had four students and four teachers. The kids participated in group activities and one-on-one lessons. The moms generally stayed in the classroom, hidden from view behind a half wall. From the mothers I learned that their children were autistic. They asked if my child was as well. I explained that she was speech delayed, and was behind in social, cognitive and self-help skills, but she wasn't autistic, at least I didn't think she was. The program didn't tell me she was. Was she?

When I asked the Infants & Toddlers folks, they responded that autism is a medical diagnosis, which as non-doctors they couldn't make. The moms with autistic children, who were now experts on autism, quizzed me about my child's history and behavior. Their diagnosis was that she wasn't autistic.
This “what if” lead me to seek out specialists. Since my daughter's main problem was with understanding and using speech, the moms encouraged me to get her into private speech therapy. Since we live in Maryland, I was also directed to the Baltimore-based Kennedy Krieger Institute, which specializes in child developmental disorders and is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University.
More than three years later, my daughter is attending regular kindergarten classes at our public school. She meets with a speech therapist twice a week and every six months is seen by a developmental pediatrician. In terms of language comprehension and speech, she's at least a full year behind for her age. Her twin, oddly, is more than a year ahead. So, developmentally, my fraternal twins are some two years apart in age.

Most every mother I've met with a special needs child says she knew, early on, that something wasn't right with her child's intellectual, physical or behavioral development. And most every one of these mothers said she was the one who had to point out the delay to her doctor, and insist that action be taken now rather than later. My experience and theirs has convinced me that mothers really do know best.

If you think your child has a developmental delay... [more]

Melissa Stanton is the author of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide: Field-tested strategies Stay At Home Survival Guidefor staying smart, sane, and connected while caring for your kids, published by Seal Press/Perseus Books ( Prior to becoming an at-home mother of three, Stanton was a senior editor at LIFE and People magazines. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, Parenting and MotherVerse, among other publications. A New York native, she has a bachelor's degree from Fordham University and a master's in public health/community health education from Hunter College. Stanton is the founder and editor of “ Real Life Support for Moms” ( ). She lives with her family outside of Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2008 Melissa Stanton. Re-printed with permission.