Speech – Cooper’s Journey

As a new parent, there were so many things that I was prepared to have to help my child learn to do. I knew that I would play an active role in teaching my baby how to walk, show him how to handle things like utensils and toys, enlighten him on things in general about this world that we live in. The thought that I may have to play an active role in teaching my child how to speak. That thought never crossed my mind. Not in the way that I planned on teaching him other things. Of course, I expected to teach him words. Point out to him what things are called – what people’s names are, and prompt him to repeat those things back to me. I never ever expected that maybe he would just not be able to do that. I certainly never expected to have an almost two year old that only had a vocabulary of about five words.

As with so many things in parenting, you can feel a little bit out of control. You have this tiny and brand new human being that you are responsible for. That people expect you to be able to control. That maybe you expected to be able to control. This is such an unrealistic expectation. Our children are little people that are born with traits and characteristics that are uniquely theirs. Things that you cannot always change or mold to the way you want them to be…the way that you feel like is best for your child.

Cooper never made verbal communication a priority. His receptive language skills were on point. He could communicate with us easily, through the use of noises and hand gestures.  He demonstrated understanding of what was being said to him. If you asked him to complete a task, he would do it. He developed his own little set of sign language that we all learned the meaning for through trial and error. People would say to me, “You have to make him speak.” “Every child goes through this.” “If he wants something, and he won’t say the word – don’t give it to him.” They made the solution seem so simple. But, it wasn’t. I couldn’t make my child speak. He didn’t feel like he needed to. Cooper was not mute. He was a very chatty little baby. He made the usual coos that you’d expect. And as I said, by the time that he was nearly two, he had a few words that he was able to articulate. BUT he never used those words to communicate anything. For instance, he could say ‘drink’ – but when he wanted a drink, he would just point to his mouth. So, according to the experts all around me – I should have denied him that drink. Because he didn’t verbally say that he needed one. To that I say: hell no. Yes, we tried it. We urged him to say “drink, Cooper…say drink..drink”, before we would hand him the drink. Not just once. We tried it over and over. Not just at home. His grandparents – they did the same. That tactic. That was not working. He would not even try. He had told us he wanted a drink. So he expected one. I stopped denying him things. When he used his sign language/gestures, I gave him what he wanted or needed. I would still say, “Ok, here’s your drink.” – to emphasize the use of language, but I wouldn’t stress him out. I wouldn’t stress myself out. Why? Because he was communicating. He was telling me what he wanted. He just couldn’t say it with words.

It was after this realization that I knew we needed help. I knew that I couldn’t expect to one day send my child to preschool if he couldn’t come home and communicate to me what happened that day. If he couldn’t articulate all the finer details of what was said or done to him. And, I know that teachers are prepared for all kinds of children with different delays. I know that they would learn to understand him. BUT I knew that Cooper needed some extra help. Help that I, or anyone else in his life, was not qualified to give.

So, we applied for an evaluation with the state’s First Steps program to get Coop qualified for their free speech therapy program. When I set up the evaluation, it never occurred to me that Coop would be turned down for the program. The evaluators said that he did not have enough of a deficit to qualify for the state funded speech therapy program. This was devastating news to us. Cooper barely said 5 words, and he never made any attempts at creating sentences. Even though we were disappointed at the outcome of the evaluation, we were determined to find a way to get Cooper in speech therapy. Our next plan of action was to try to go through our insurance for assistance with paying for his speech therapy. Initially, we were told that our insurance would cover a designated amount of visits for the year. The insurance would only cover about two months of weekly visits. According to the speech therapist, this amount was not nearly enough, but we knew we had to take what assistance we could get. After three sessions we received a letter from our insurance company that stated that they actually would not cover the speech therapy. I couldn’t believe it. The insurance company said that the speech therapy could not be deemed medically necessary. And so, almost five months since we had begun the whole journey to finding speech therapy for Cooper we were at a dead end. There were no more speech therapy appointments to go to…and we now had to cover the cost of those three visits we did attend. I could not understand why it seemed so impossible to get the help that we so desperately needed.

At this point, life moved on. I was pregnant with my second child and working a hectic schedule that consisted of very long hours. We continued to do what we could with Coop..hoping for a break through. But he moved at a snail’s pace. Six months after we were initially turned down by the state program and our insurance–I decided to try to set up another evaluation to get Coop qualified for the state funded program. He was nearing three years old and still said maybe 10 words (none of which did he use to communicate his needs or wants). I was able to obtain another referral from his pediatrician, and we got a new evaluation appointment. This second evaluation was a lot less formal than the first. Cooper was evaluated by the therapist who worked with him during those three visits earlier in the year. She could tell that he was not making the progress he should have. Later that evening we finally received some good news. Cooper qualified for the program! We started sessions the very next week.

At about two months into our speech therapy sessions, Cooper started making amazing improvements. He started making short two word sentences, and he was finally using words to communicate his needs. I knew that speech therapy is not some magic trick that would cause Cooper to all of a sudden start speaking to me like a typical child his age. We still held mostly one sided conversations that involved me asking tons of questions and eliciting one word responses from him. But I knew that those once a week sessions were helping. I got to sit in on the sessions, and I was able to learn new techniques from observing the therapist. I also tried to implement what she was working on with him in our everyday life. We learned to do things like ‘talk through’ his playtime. This involved describing everything that we were doing. He still does that to this day. You can hear him in his room describing what he’s doing – as if he were talking to someone.

And what about today? Well, we have a super chatty little three year old. He does not stop. Sometimes I ask for quiet time..and I’m not going to lie: I’ll feel guilty in that moment. BUT I am always so grateful for how far he has come. He needed that therapy. He needed that professional guidance to take him to a place in his speech development that I could not.  That he could not – on his own.

Watching your child struggle to do something that is considered a basic skill, is a hard thing. Seeing him on the playground – unable to communicate with his peers – and seeing those peers and other parents notice his deficit – that made my heart hurt for him.  Why? Because it’s just natural to want your child to excel. To want your child to be able to do what he wants to do. To want your child not lack for anything. I’m writing this today because I know that there are so many other parents or caregivers out there who have a child that may be struggling in some way or the other – developmentally. Not everyone’s story has such a happy ending – some people are still struggling. I just wanted to say that I feel for you. I wanted to say that – you are doing an amazing job advocating for your child. That I know our work, as parents,  is never completely over. And going through this has made more aware and more sensitive toward the different and unique developments of every child. It also made me more prepared to guide my second child as she learns to talk.

Thank you so much reading today. 🙂 I really enjoyed sharing this with y’all. Have you had to conquer anything as a parent that you did not expect to?

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