I see and hear about a lot of babies in my line of work. As a childbirth educator, I count myself most lucky when I get to attend one of my students’ births, and second-most lucky when a mom or dad from one of my classes thinks to call me after their baby is born and tell me how things are going. Truth be told: most newborn babes are kind of goofy looking.
You know what I’m talking about: cone heads, scrunched up faces, puffy eyes, swollen genitals…most newborns certainly do not resemble their futures selves one iota. And, while the occasional new mother or father experiences the perfectly normal process of falling in love with his or her newborn over a span of days to weeks…most parents of new babes fall into love at first site. No matter WHAT their son or daughter is like upon birth.
The above holds true for babies born with no physical malady at all, and certainly remains true for darned near all parents whose children may be born with any wide variety of physical anomaly or handicap.
See, the thing is: in our eyes, our children are perfect just the way they are. We are genetically and psychologically programmed to feel that way. That’s where the unconditional love thing comes in. We want to believe our babies are without imperfection and until the child reaches, say eighteen months or two-years-old, when they purposely begin testing their parents, their surroundings and their own control within those surroundings…we maintain that belief in our child’s perfection within our heart of hearts.
So how is a parent to handle it when someone suggests that maybe, perhaps, possibly, their child is not perfect? That something is wrong with him or her. That something went awry during his development in utero, or with during development after birth? What then? How do we rectify that information against our innate drive to believe in the purity of our little cherub?Our youngest son, at twenty-seven-months of age has a speech delay. When he was eighteen-months-old we’d started to notice it. Even before he turned two, he was evaluated as having a 50% speech delay – placing him at the language development level of a 12-month-old. He’s been in and out of speech therapy but all along, Andrew and I tried hard to maintain the belief that he is just a “late talker” and that his language development would catch up without incident…given enough time. And, of course, we’ve had many well-meaning folks tell us anecdotes about a child they know–perhaps even one of their own–who also progressed slowly through his or her speech development, who “turned out just fine” without any therapy at all.
Last week, I met with a new speech therapist. One who comes highly recommended to us by several resources in our community. This therapist: she is specially trained in treating a variety of speech disorders. One of these is Apraxia of Speech, or Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). She recommended we read a book, The Late Talker (Agin, Geng, Nicholl) which specifically targets families of children with apraxia.
I read the book. I underlined phrases and paragraphs, dog-eared pages, and circled quotations. There’s no question our son harbors many of the symptoms described in this book. Certainly not all of them. But many of them.
But here’s the kicker: CAS is described as a “serious neurological disorder.” It is suggested to be a life-long ordeal that, with plenty of speech therapy and perhaps lots of Omega 3 fatty acids, can be greatly improved upon, but not necessarily abolished all together.
How does one know if their child has CAS? Well, there are LOTS of signs and symptoms, but here are some of the main ones:
* a child with a significant gap between their receptive language (that which they understand) and their expressive language (that which they can speak)
* a child who omits sounds in words–such as the ending consonant, or adds others in, or has little to no speech skills at all by an age he/she ought to
*a child who signs, gestures, grunts, etc. to get their point across in the absence of forming real words
*and the list goes on…
The average two-year-old should have about 100-200 words in his or her vocabulary. Our son has less than twenty and many of those “words” are only word approximations.
As a writer, I take for granted the voice with which I write. I take even more for granted my ability to vocalize that voice – those thoughts, feelings, phrases and paragraphs that make up my writing. I can’t imagine how it would feel if my head was full of thoughts, wishes, desires, statements, etc…and I physically did not have the means to verbally express those things.
This is apparently what it is like for someone who has apraxia. Can you imagine anything more frustrating for a child who is in the PRIME speech development time of his life…and he can’t even form a sentence as simple as, ‘more milk, please.’
Our little guy is so sweet, mild mannered, silly and for the most part, compliant. Yes, he’s two, and so he’s doing lots of typical two-year-old things…but he’s NOTHING like some two- and three-year-olds I’ve known.
We’ve been told by a person who seems to be extremely well-trained in her field; her assessment corroborated by a reasonable book written by a mother, and a former Speech Language Pathologist-turned Developmental Pediatrician, that our son is less than perfect. That he has a “serious neurological disorder of motor planning that affects his ability to speak.” We have been told that he will likely need years of speech therapy.
But you know what? I don’t see anything “severe” about my son. I don’t see him as any less whole than I did before last week. He’s still perfect to me. And even if he does end up needing years of speech therapy, he will still be no less than perfect in mine and Andrew’s eyes.