How many people haven’t looked at their child, who is either head-banging, eating a screw, or pushing a button on a musical toy for the ten thousandth time in one minute, and wondered, “Is there something wrong with my child?! Why does he DO that?”
But feeling that there is something wrong in your gut (or your conscience, as I sometimes think of it) is different. Usually it is the mom who feels this first because she is the one overly familiar with her child–the way he moves, plays, speaks, or just “is”–but sometimes the dad spots it first (especially in the area of motor or balance). The gut feeling is this subtle, quiet, persistently nagging reaction to your child’s behavior that says, “Something here isn’t quite right.” And often it isn’t a behavior per se that is bothering you but rather a pattern.
It was like when one of my sons was repeating what was said to him. All kids go through repetitive stages, and most kids repeat things so much that you think you’re going to scream. Questions like “What’s this?” or ” ” tend to be asked ad nauseum. And especially when your toddler is just beginning to speak, they often pick up little scripts or phrases that they run through often. Totally normal.
But something about the frequency and duration of the repeating began concerning me. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Everyone who came in simple contact with my child thought he was fine. I didn’t. It began to dawn on me that he could ONLY repeat, and then I realized it was not what he was doing–repeating–but what he wasn’t doing that was concerning me. I never heard him talk freely or answer in a new way. As he was progressing from two years to three years, all that was coming out was old stuff I’d heard a million times before for the last year.
And then there was the memorizing. Many kids have a fantastic memory. Probably because they don’t have a mind full of experiences to draw from, God gives them this amazing ability to encode what they see and hear. It is common for kids to memorize their favorite videos, books, silly songs, or alphabet (if you’re lucky!) even at the tenderest toddler ages. But my son was memorizing everything he heard from the daily routine (“Oh listen, there’s the mail truck! I wonder if it’s got the mail. Let’s see, anything for me…”) to our gospel of Matthew DVD, which was like three or four hours long. I mean, his articulation wasn’t great, but you could tell he was doing it. It was almost like he wasn’t even aware of other people conversing with him–he would just run at the mouth. And he memorized puzzles too. At 24 months, he was doing simple 25-piece puzzles with Elmo. But by 30 months, he had six or seven 100-piece puzzles he’d memorized. He wouldn’t use the picture, or even do trial and error. He’d just pick a piece up out of the pile and place it on the floor where it was supposed to go. He even figured out that some of the puzzles used the same template, and would do one puzzle on top of another, laying the top pieces over the similar shaped ones cut out below. All this, and he couldn’t even answer “Yes” if I asked him if he was hungry!
So you can see why my “gut feeling” was roaring! By then it probably wasn’t even a feeling… it was like a clanging bell inside going, “Get help! get help!” But yet, the comments I heard from others–even those closest to me–were pacifying remarks like:
- He’s a boy. Boys talk later.
- He’s the oldest. The oldest are often late-bloomers.
- He doesn’t watch enough TV. He’d probably catch up if he watched a couple hours a day.
- Don’t compare kids. Everyone is different.
- He’s probably a genius. Einstein couldn’t talk until he was five and flunked first grade.
- He’ll talk when he’s ready.
- It’s probably just his personality.
- He might be a little behind, but kids catch up on their own.
I tried to believe these! I really tried! I’m kind of a neurotic person, so I chalked up my clanging bell to normal first-time mom neurosis. Plus, I’m a psychologist and an overachiever, so I am hyper-discerning about people’s emotions and problems at times. How could all these other people be wrong? Wouldn’t I be the most horrible person on earth if I said I was concerned my boy wasn’t a genius at all and was autistic? or had a low IQ? Even daddy didn’t think anything was wrong. Plus, our guy was social, cheerful, obedient, and had learned all his shapes, colors, letters, numbers… everything you could show him.
But he wasn’t talking to me.
Or interacting with what I was saying. No new things, no expressive desires, no asking for stuff, no conversation about anything that wasn’t an object or a sound. Nothing he hadn’t memorized or seen/heard before came out. My clanging bell refused to be silenced.
I muffled it well but by the time he was 34 months old, I couldn’t take it anymore. I took him over to a friend’s house who worked with learning delays at a Christian elementary school. She tested him with an old Early Intervention test she had around the house, very informally, as my guy played with her young son, and said she thought I had reason to be concerned. She said that even if I didn’t, she was concerned that I felt so intensely about it and that I should trust my inner voice. She told me that Mothers Know Their Children Best and that if I thought something was wrong, there probably was.
Of course, there was! My wonderful, bright little boy was over fourteen months behind in receptive language (what he could understand), and about eight months behind in expressive language (what he could put into words). He was mildly behind in other areas, but probably because we hadn’t been able to explain to him various things that required more understanding.
My clanging bell had finally been silenced.
I share this with you only to encourage you, Mom, that you should never ignore your gut feelings about your children. Even if admitting them means you are “betraying” that they aren’t the little genius you and everyone else wants them to be, do it. Or if the problem is merely behavioral, but it is over the top, I would also call Early Intervention or mention it to someone with professional understanding of child development. It could be that your patience is worn thin for good reason… it could be a sign that something is actually wrong. Especially if you find yourself moved to exhaustion or severe frustration with your child–and you normally are a nice Nelly with kind-hearted patience for everybody–check it out. God gives us these inner voices for a reason.
And don’t buy the idea that professional child development people are a bunch of bunk, as I sort of did. It’s not that I didn’t believe they could tell me anything, as much as I didn’t trust what they would say. I was worried they would overestimate or underestimate the problem… like telling me there was no hope for my child because he was autistic, or telling me I was silly for worrying and everything was normal. I think the fear of these two types of responses immobilized me because they were the very last things I wanted to hear (especially the latter). But your child is more important than your fears. Do it for them.