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Mother's Instinct

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Today, I was reminded of a story that I would be remiss if I did not share. I had a dentist appointment this morning, and while waiting for 30 minutes in the waiting room, my son ‘Pudge’ and I played and talked. Gradually, the rest of the people in the waiting room (many with small children of their own) became more and more impressed with Pudge’s language skills. He recited his ABCs, counted to 30, and played “I Spy” with me like a champ. But it was when he started spelling words that a few jaws dropped around me and everyone couldn’t believe that he was only 2. I say this not to brag about my son, but rather to illustrate the importance of parents trusting their own instincts. Let me back up and start at the beginning.

Last August, I took Pudge in for his regular 18-month check-up. Like always, I was eager to hear what the doctor would say and was proud to show off my smart little boy. Since we had recently moved, we were seeing a new doctor. After she asked me a battery a questions about his physical development, she started asking about his speech. He said only 5 words at 18 months, which I knew was less than average. Since his comprehension was through the roof, I wasn’t at all concerned about his language prior to the appointment. He was extremely communicative in non-verbal ways, and I could tell that he was a very smart boy. But to my dismay, the doctor didn’t care AT ALL about his comprehension. She kept saying, “That’s nice, but what words does he actually say?”

The doctor said that 18-month-old boys should have 20 words, and girls should have 50! Since Pudge only had 5 words, he—wait for it—needed to see a speech therapist immediately because he was behind the curve.

I was flabbergasted. Sending any 18-month-old to speech therapy seemed extreme, but sending a child who clearly comprehends everything and has demonstrated that he can say a few words seemed beyond ridiculous. Of course, I can say that now, but at the time I couldn’t think so level-headedly. I left the pediatrician’s office that day in tears.

My husband and I mulled it over and decided not to pursue speech therapy. We just knew that our son was learning and would speak on his own terms in his own time. (I later found out that most speech therapists will not even see kids until they’re at least 3 years old.) Needless to say, we never went back to that pediatrician again.

Lo and behold, one cold day in January, Pudge started talking. Not just words, sentences. Between 23 and 25 months, he went from saying about 25 words, to repeating every word that he heard. I never kept one of those “word logs” that some parents do, but I couldn’t really because I would have written several pages worth of words every day for those two months. Now, at 27 months, he speaks in paragraphs and his language skills far exceed those of most other 2 year-olds. In fact, he speaks better than many 3 year-olds and is often mistaken for one.

So, why do I tell you all of this? Two reasons. First, for parents who are experiencing similar delayed speech issues with their child, I hope this story brings you comfort. It turns out that kids don’t read medical reference journals and don’t know that they are “supposed to” do things on a certain schedule. Every kid will speak on his/her own timeline. Judging from this experience with my son, I think the whole concept of early rolling over/crawling/walking/talking/jumping/etc. is extremely overblown. I don’t believe that reaching these milestones early or late has any bearing on how smart or athletic a child will be. My son was a very “early” roller, crawler and jumper, but a “late” walker and talker. See? That tells you squat about him.

Secondly, and more importantly, my son’s speech “delay” has taught me to trust my own instincts. Doctors do not always have the right answer, and they don’t always give the best advice. Clearly, a child who can spell at 2 years old didn’t need speech therapy at 18 months. If your doctor tells you something that runs counter to your own instincts, trust yourself. People often say that children don’t come with manuals, and while true, I think the instincts that parents have are far more useful than any manual would be, anyway. Do you agree?

Jen was born and raised in central Pennsylvania and holds degrees from Penn State University and Georgetown University. She currently lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband and son. She blogs at My Boss is Teething

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