This blog piece is for all the parents who’s kids don’t check every box. This is for the kids who do things on their own timeline. This blog piece is for all the parents doing all they can to get their kids the support and support they need. This is for the caregivers advocating for their kids. This is for the people who think interventions are something to be embarrassed about. This blog piece is for everyone who thinks early intervention is a dirty word because I’m here to tell you it’s not!
Sonny is the kind of kid who physically checked off all the boxes early. To say Sonny is active is an understatement. He crawled at 4 months, sat unassisted before 6 months, walked at 9 months and was running by 10. On many occasions I had to remind myself that he was so hyper focused on physical development that sometimes the cognitive was a second thought to him.
I’ve always been an advocate for early intervention. I have a girlfriend whose son qualified for OT (occupational therapy) and ST (speech/Language therapy) around the age of two. She encouraged me to advocate for my son since she had such a positive experience. Maybe that’s why I never felt like I was doing Sonny a disservice for seeking evaluations early on.
Around a year and a half (18 months) old I started to question Sonny’s speech. I expressed my concerns to our pediatrician and she assured me that the best thing to do was to monitor his speech and touch base at his 20 month appointment. She was another proponent for early intervention and felt as I did; there was nothing to lose and only a benefit if Sonny qualified. Most pediatricians aren't concerned with speech delays until the age to two. At home we continued to monitor Sonny's progression (or lack there of). The truth was I definitely was and am very critical of his development. I am and was fixated on it. People told me I was insane for thinking he needed intervention. Friends, family, my husband, and at times I myself questioned it. He spoke. He had plenty of words. He didn’t throw an unusual amount of tantrums because of a lack of communication. He was technically meeting milestones yet his pronunciation and articulation seemed to be delayed. But at the end of the day I said fuck it. Let’s get an evaluation for the hell of it. No harm done.
A side note; I started seeking an evaluation for interventions a little after his 20 month doctors appointment. Kids can continue speech and language interventions through the state until the age of 3. Many of those who qualify do so by the age of 2. That gives you a full year of accommodations! My fear was the state, being the state of Illinois, would be running behind schedule and take a long time to set up. To my surprise the process was seamless AND efficient.
The first step in seeking early interventions is as easy as dialing an 800 number. I was quickly connected with a coordinator who covered my particular area in the city. Within weeks we set up an appointment to have Sonny evaluated. I was shocked at the efficiency! I opted for four specialists to come to our home to evaluate our son. Early interventions are very parent driven. I never felt pressured to do anything I didn’t want and was very comfortable with the entire process. I can’t say enough positive things about the OT (occupational therapist), ST (speech and language therapist), PT (physical therapist), and DT (development therapy) that we saw. Sonny had a blast interacting with them. He truly saw this as an opportunity to play! He couldn’t have acted more like his (hyperactive) self. It’s important to note that the goal is to evaluate and create a plan that keeps the whole/entire child’s development in mind. They aren’t here to label, categorize, or classify your kid so the more evaluations you can receive from specialists the better.
Well before Sonny's second birthday he had been evaluated, qualified and participating in both speech/language and occupational therapy. Don’t get me wrong hearing your kid qualifies for interventions, no matter how much of an advocate you are for the programs, can be deflating. I was genuinely shocked when he qualified for speech but even more stunned over the occupational diagnosis. I had a momentary feeling of guilt and despair. I couldn’t help but wonder what I did wrong. Was it because I was a stay at home mom and he would have benefited from socializing at daycare? Did I enable his speech delays? Was he spoiled? “Don’t compare your kids to other children” and “development isn’t linear”. We hear this all the time, but there are moments when it’s really fucking hard not to. Sonny had the language. He had more words than most kids his age! He easily strings four words together which is actually advanced for his age. He rarely throws tantrums because he physically can accomplish what he verbally cannot express. For example; Sonny may not be able to tell me he wants a particular snack but he’s strong enough to open the pantry and get it himself. I’ve learned there is a huge difference between language and speech. Speech is the sound of spoken language and includes the formation of a sound while language is the words we use and how we use them. While he met language expectations Sonny had typical speech delays. Particularly in phonological development. He struggles with vowel and consonant placement. Because of this we were assigned a speech and language therapist who specializes in prompting. And as for occupational therapy they believe his speech would benefit because he is so (hyper)active. OT helps regulate his body to focus. At the end of the day I needed to realize there was nothing wrong with Sonny, our parenting, or the situation. I was fully prepared to take advantage of the opportunity and do what was in the best interest of my son.
We are almost two months into ST and OT and couldn’t be happier. Sonny is matched up with lovely experts that do an amazing job! Again, we opted for in person and at home therapies. We felt this gave Sonny the best opportunity to thrive in an environment that he is comfortable in. His “teachers” come weekly for about 45 - 60 minutes each. He loves the individualized attention he receives and has made outstanding progress before his second birthday. Even though I was taken aback by the OT qualification I find his speech thrives even more during those sessions because he learns best through movement! I am also learning so much. A huge reason I wanted to explore early intervention options was because I’m not qualified even with a background in education and felt I was hitting a wall when it came to helping him. I’ve already learned so many tips and tricks we use on a daily basis to advance his speech skills! Tried and true strategies that don’t make me feel overwhelmed. The internet and social media are great places to learn new information, but also very overwhelming at times! His “teachers“ and I set goals every week and I utilize the strategies they taught me. I’m impressed in a short amount of time all he is accomplishing. He's made so many improvements with his speech already that I’m looking forward to continuing his education to see how far he will advance.
Early intervention is a great tool that is currently (and temporarily) free to utilize (thanks Covid) regardless of household income. With self employed careers our insurance is expensive but even when the government assistance program ends the most we will pay out of pocket is $200 a month for both services. The system is tiered based on income and family size. A much cheaper option than going private!
I’ve been met with a lot of criticism and unsolicited comments about my choice to seek early intervention for Sonny. Most, if not all, of those people think I’m doing him a disservice, overreacting, not giving him enough time to evolve on his own and/or setting him up be categorized in school moving forward. These people couldn’t be more wrong. I’m living by the motto that there is zero downside to taking advantage of these early intervention opportunities! I truly believe starting E.I. early will only benefit Sonny in the long run. The earlier you qualify the more time you have to utilize the program. Although we were lucky our process was super quick and efficient this is a state run program and I have heard horror stories about waiting an extended period of time for placement. I’m well aware that kids learn and develop on their own timeline, but there is nothing detrimental to seeking help and learning more to assist your child’s growth. I never want to look back and say “damn it, I wish I would have advocated sooner for my child”. I don’t want to have any regrets months down the line when it may be too late because I genuinely believe early interventions are a positive. I have no desire for him to play catch up. I may never know if E.I. is going to be the solution or if Sonny will just have a “language burst” at the same time. What I do know is if I don’t advocate for my son the reality is I may regret it in the future.
I hope our story encourages understanding and advocacy for children in early intervention programs. My goal is to be open and transparent because you can’t believe how many moms I’ve spoken to who feel the same. There have been countless times I’ve mentioned early intervention with others and they instantly open up about their experiences! If I hadn’t spoken so positively and nonchalant would they have mentioned it? Let’s switch up the dialogue and stigma surrounding E.I.! There is nothing to be ashamed of. The only shame is on those ignorant enough to look down on the parents who are only advocating and doing what is best for their children. Sonny is a brilliant, smart, compassionate, wild, mischievous, loving, energetic, funny, determined, and kind boy. Qualifying for early interventions doesn’t change any of that!
If you’re questioning seeking, want any additional information or are on the fence about E.I. please feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to chat about it!
XO - Amanda