Some people seem to think a speech and language delay is no big deal, and the child in question will get there in the end. Admittedly, I used to think the same until it was my child. Now I know better. A speech and language delay can be heartbreaking for the parents and the child.
There are many different language disorders, so I can’t speak for all children or their parents because all children will be affected differently, but I can tell you how it affects my child as well as myself.
We have good and bad days. On the good days, my 3-year-old son, Harry, will use words and gestures to let you know what he wants. If he can’t for any reason, I’m able to remain calm, sympathetic and understanding.
But when Harry is having a bad day, he throws the mother of all tantrums multiple times a day. They seem to go on for hours on end. He gets so frustrated that he bangs his head on the hard floor over and over again. Most of the time, I have no idea what the tantrums are about, and he isn’t able tell me. I’m ashamed to admit that when I’m having a bad day, all calm, understanding and sympathy goes completely out the window. So on the really, really bad days, you have one screaming 3-year-old and one screaming 34-year-old acting like a 3-year-old.
Also on the bad days (for reasons unknown to me), Harry may refuse to use the words he has learned and mumbles or makes whiney noises at me, which leaves me feeling frustrated, annoyed and then guilty. Guilty for feeling frustrated and annoyed.
His parrot-like speech and out-of-context sentences he uses over and over can grate on my nerves. And then I feel guilty and ungrateful because I know there are moms out there with completely nonverbal children who would give their right arm to hear them say anything, even if it meant hearing them repeat the same thing again and again.
Sometimes I feel sad for my son who can’t always communicate like a typical 3-year-old can. And sometimes I feel sad for me. This isn’t how I imagined our lives would be. You certainly don’t spend your pregnancy dreaming about visits to the pediatrician and attending speech and language appointments. You don’t expect it will be your child who has additional needs.
A speech and language delay can sometimes affect a child’s overall development because they can’t process what you are saying to them. Sometimes in Harry’s case, it all becomes a bit too much to take in, and he ends up switching off completely.
You hear speech delay and just think that one day soon they will just suddenly start talking. For some children that’s true, but for others, it’s not that simple.
Imagine not being able to tell someone what you want and not being able to get it for yourself, either. Imagine being in pain but not being able to say what hurts so someone can help you to feel better. Imagine feeling scared or angry or sad and not being able to talk through your worries with the people you love. Imagine being hungry or thirsty but not being able to ask for food or drink.
Although Harry can now say “drink,” “dinner” and “snack,” sometimes he prefers to just throw an almighty tantrum instead, and I’m supposed to guess what he wants.
There are the toddler groups we attend where he gets so hyper because he doesn’t know how to communicate properly with the other children. He gets rough and starts pushing them to get their attention in the only way he knows how. He thinks it’s a game. I then have to tell him off because pushing is, of course, completely unacceptable (speech delay or not). Then everyone looks at you both in a way that says, “He’s the naughty child.” Except he’s not. He’s just misunderstood.
I can’t reason with him to go to sleep on his own at night with the promise of a new toy or an outing of his choice if he’s good. I can’t tell him can’t watch the “Peppa Pig” TV show for a week if he’s not. But he only picks out the words that interest him. So when he only hears “Peppa Pig,” he thinks I’m putting it on for him when I actually mean quite the opposite.
We have to simplify everything we say to him with just a few words, and he can only follow one simple direction at a time. I’m not gonna lie. It’s exhausting.
While other children his age are just starting to draw stick people and shapes, he is still scribbling in the same way as his 18-month-old sister.
Some days, I don’t feel like I have a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old. Some days, it feels more like I have 18-month-old twins, especially when they’re both screaming at me and I can’t work out what they want.
Unless you go through something like this yourself, you have no idea what an emotional rollercoaster it can be. There are really, really hard days, but every new word or sentence is cause for a celebration. Just one tiny new word can put a smile on your face for days.
Having a speech-delayed child can mean having more bad days than good. It’s so much harder than I ever thought it would be. Harry is making definitely making progress, but not at the rate that I’d hoped.
So the next time I tell you my son has a speech delay, please don’t tell me it’s no big deal. It’s a big deal for my son and me. It affects our lives in more ways than one every single day.