You have this precious baby. Someone you’d give your life for. In one sense, you probably are never taken up on that commitment. But in another sense, you are asked for it every day… You do give your life, usually just slowly.
So what happens when you start to suspect your precious baby is having a problem? Not a physical one, for which you can just take him to the doctor. Or the common snap reaction: “Hmm… is that normal?” where you call up one of your friends with kids. But a real social, emotional, or cognitive problem. There is no place you can rush off to, to get counsel and support. Every time you look at another child, you have an uneasy sinking in your stomach. Something that confirms your worst fears, something that shows you, “My child isn’t normal.” Experienced adults like grandparents or the pediatrician ask you—because you are the Mother and you know All—“Why does he do that?” and that’s unnerving. Even going to your friends’ houses, if they have the “normal” bouncy and bossy children, starts to make you afraid. What are you doing wrong?
There is something dreadfully isolating about those types of feelings. And yet I believe that every mom (or almost) experiences something like that when they first start to suspect. Why is it that we feel so alone when mothers all over the country are waking up with the same, exact experience? There are special needs kids everywhere—probably dozens in our own home town—and yet the pit of swirling fear and guilt gets us all, one at a time, and drags us into our own little world where we are trying to figure out the problem, contain our emotions, and present a controlled image on top.
On the other hand, we have to beware that there are fear-mongers everywhere now. You can’t turn on Oprah or pick up a “Woman’s Day” without ads and feature stories about some new disease or the increasing pervasiveness of a once-unique one. We have to draw boundaries and protect our families, and we have to put up fences that allow us to praise and hope for our children when outside voices are so pessimistic. You also know that from first step on a playground that it “seems” most kids are actually fine. They each have idiosyncrasies that need attention, but they generally fall into an acceptable range. So you go back and forth trying to figure out if what you see in your own child, which is a yellow flag, is something to be concerned about, really.
So is there a problem, or isn’t there? Assuming that you are bonded to your child, I hate to state the obvious: a mother always knows when something is wrong with her child. She may not know what it is, but she knows it is there.
Author Karen Foli describes it like this:
“When the child is not developing as fast as he should, the situation is so overwhelming that denial sets in. The mother and father talk. Frequently, the father comforts the mother. He tells her she’s worrying unnecessarily, that each child is different, that their child will develop at his or her own pace…But I couldn’t keep on denying what was in front of my eyes… Finally, I knew I had to act…I have learned to never underestimate a mother’s intuition. The people who had these questions about [my child] were highly respected professionals with all the modern diagnostic tools. They certainly should have been able to know what was wrong with [him.] But as I looked into my son’s eyes, I knew they were missing something. I had no idea what the problem was. But I knew with certainty [that they had missed it.]”
I had no idea what the problem was… I definitely felt that way, as I was starting off with my own two special needs kids. By the time they were toddlers, I had my suspicions and by the time they were preschoolers, I was definitely concerned. If there is a real problem with your child, you feel this way. If there is not, you probably don’t. That gnawing sense of worry, deep in the heart where you are afraid to spill the beans about everything you’ve noticed… that’s when you know something is really wrong.
Now that doesn’t mean to panic! I don’t believe in panicking! But it does mean it is time to act. Stop looking at your friend’s kids, stop reading books at the bookstore (or online), and stop debating about what the pediatrician said. Stop keeping notes or writing about your woes in your journal, and stop trying to convince your husband that you aren’t just a worrywart. Call Early Intervention (if the child is under 3) or take the child to the nearest preschool with an evaluation center, and get it checked out. It will be a step onto a roller-coaster if your fears are confirmed, but stepping onto that roller-coaster is one step closer to getting off. If you don’t go, you’re only postponing the ride.