When a Little Girl Asked Why My Son Can’t Talk Like Her

I can’t tell you how often I hear, “Don’t compare your child to others.” I’m also guilty of telling other parents and friends this same thing.

But I’ve never really believed it.

We naturally compare our kids to others. We compare ourselves to others. We compare our families to other families. And I don’t think we do this out of jealousy or competition. I think we make comparisons because we want to fit in. We particularly and desperately want our children to fit in. It is a hard-wired mommy concern. It’s why we do what we do. (Do you really love doing annual holiday photo cards and taking young children to Disneyland and going on all those playdates? I don’t love it, but I do ’em all.) While you and I know that fitting in isn’t of the utmost importance, it’s hard for our kids to realize this at such a sensitive and insecure stage. Even though you and I know conformity isn’t “all that,” we mighty still want it, at least part of it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, ever since my neighbor’s child said something about my son’s speech delay. She is nearly the exact chronological age as Ben (4) and she is a highly verbal child. Ben, on the other hand, can barely say his own name. He refers to himself as “Beh” and is limited in speech due to verbal apraxia. She asked me, “Why can’t Ben talk like me?” I felt a wince of pain in my heart but pushed it aside and answered her question. A year or so ago I would have held onto that pain, but I think I have gained more perspective and confidence in Ben’s abilities in the past year.

We might always compare our kids to others. But it’s important to do so with perspective. Be cognizant that your child is unique, and always keep your focus on both the future and the past. Some typical parents don’t have to worry about the past; they might be able to keep looking forward. But as a special needs parent, I feel tied to it. I have to keep looking back, comparing, analyzing and appreciating the past. It’s important to me to know what other kids are doing and what we have to aim for. It’s hard to compare without sadness or jealousy, and it’s something I actively work on by reminding myself of the past.

As a doctor, I understand developmental milestones. I know it will take years and years of speech therapy and dedication on my part to help Ben talk like other kids. I can understand this with my doctor brain, but my mommy brain aches for him. It aches when I see other kids running, dancing and talking circles around him. I know he’s behind in his verbal skills. But I’ve also seen him grow immensely over this year. Already at age 4, he has faced adversities that my neighbor’s child will probably never face — and he is overcoming them. As the years go by, I’m gaining strength, too — strength to keep running this marathon alongside him.

I have also learned that Ben’s apraxia is an opportunity to teach others about our diversity and acceptance. While this seemed hard to do at first, it went over well with my neighbor. When she asked me about his speech delay, I told her all kids talk and learn differently and that it’s hard for him to make words like her. I stressed that it was a chance for her to help him with his words. She smiled and ran over to play with him. That part made my heart a little happier.

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