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When My Daughter's Friend Criticized Her Speech Delay

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My 5-year-old was having a summer pandemic playdate complete, with masks and social distancing. It had been a while since we had actually seen other people in-person outside of our immediate family. She was beaming for the first time in six months and was so excited to actually be able to play with a friend. Unlike me, she wasn’t nervous. She didn’t care about the mask. She wasn’t worried about maintaining six feet of distance. She was just so happy to get a piece of normal back. My daughter said something to her friend about going to the swing set to play (music to my ears!) and I listened to hear her friend respond with,

“I can’t understand what you’re saying. Why are you talking like a baby?”

My heart dropped and it took everything in me to hold back the tears.

I froze, unsure of what to say next. Since she’s learned to speak (at 3) she has had a severe speech delay and she struggles with articulation. She’s made huge progress and tries her best, but even as her family who knows her best, we sometimes struggle to understand her. I knew this would be a challenge she would face sometime soon, but in the midst of a pandemic, I wasn’t really prepared to confront this situation head-on.

As I swallowed back tears, trying to quickly figure out how to respond and help her, she looked him right in the eye and responded as clearly and confidently as ever,

“I don’t talk like a baby. I work very hard at talking good. You need to work harder to understand me.”

Wow. I was blown away. That was the perfect answer. I wish I had thought of it! I had a few ideas in my head of how to respond to that moment. Something like, “Let’s figure out how to show him what you’re saying,” or “You work so hard and I’m so proud of you.” She handled the situation better than I could have. How could a 5-year-old be this insightful?

I quickly told her that this was exactly the right answer, and let’s remember these words because as she gets older they will carry her through life. She sure does work hard and he can ask questions if he can’t understand, etc. The mother of her friend made her son apologize and we soon went onto playing on the swingset. Despite being upset that this happened, I was beyond proud of my daughter’s response. It made my heart happy.

As a mom, we do the best we can. As a mom, particularly of a child with a disability, I worry a lot about whether I’m doing everything I need to for her. I often wonder if I’m enough.

I do my best to give her what she needs. I communicate constantly with all of her school teachers and therapists and her private speech therapists. I’m constantly advocating for her needs and explaining how she learns and what she needs. I’m constantly changing my parenting techniques that just don’t work for her. But it just never seems like enough. Despite all of this, there are still days that I feel like a failure as a parent.

And if there’s one thing I can teach as her mom, it’s to advocate and believe in herself. I stood up, smiled and told myself that this girl knows what she needs. I repeated her words over in my head and realized that maybe I need to believe in myself a bit more. Maybe I need to reframe how I talk to myself.

And in that moment, I realized that she was teaching me. Thanks for the lesson, my girl. I know there will be many more to come.

Getty image by Alberto Pascual.

Originally published: March 14, 2021
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