I’m currently waiting at speech therapy while my third child practices his words. I’m learning some unique lessons from this kid that I didn’t from the first two, and I’m sure there will be more to come. That’s not to say the first two didn’t teach me things, but the third child is the wild child! Here are some thoughts on our journey with him so far.
One of These Things is Not Like the Other
If our only parenting experience had been with the first two kids, my outlook on raising kids would be significantly different. I would have claimed that it was a piece of cake. You’ll be fine if you put kids to bed on time, consistently use timeouts when they do something wrong, and don’t give them chicken nuggets when they don’t want what you cooked. They’ll turn out like angels, and you will be parent of the year. All those people who can’t control their kids are doing it wrong.
And then we had our third.
He’s quickly approaching four years old right now, but it took a year or two before we noticed he was different. We’ve always been pretty good about not measuring our kids against the baby books. We didn’t freak out if they hadn’t done the thing they were supposed to do by the time they were supposed to do it, but something was different about the third one. He crawled and walked at really normal times, but months 12-24 were different.
The words didn’t come to him like they did to the first two. They babbled first, then words, and their speech steadily progressed. That wasn’t happening with him. When there should have been ma-ma and da-da and all those other first words…there wasn’t. He wasn’t very verbal, and when he was, they were rarely words. Over the course of his second year, some words did start to come, and he did express himself, but he was behind…far behind.
Getting Him the Help He Needs
When you have a 2 year old struggling to express what they want or how they’re feeling, it comes out in other ways. For the first time in our parenting career, we had a hitter. Our first two weren’t perfect, but this was new for us. It was to the point where we would leave him in the toddler room at church, and get pulled out of a meeting because he was being so bad. Even around family we had to constantly watch him. We were still doing timeouts, but it wasn’t the silver bullet that it was with the first two. Timeouts didn’t make the words come, so the acting out continued.
He would get frustrated because he didn’t have the language to express himself. When you can’t run to mom and dad and tattle on big sister, then you pull her hair. You hit, you bite, and you throw things. When words aren’t in your arsenal, you use your other tools. At his second year check-up, the pediatrician mentioned speech services, but we couldn’t even picture that. He was so young. We knew something had to be done when year three rolled around, and he still hadn’t made a lot of progress.
Our first two have actually gone to speech, but for really minor issues, like a specific letter or blend they have a hard time with. I blame my mumbling. We made sure his hearing was good, and he passed that. Then we did a speech evaluation, and it confirmed what we already knew. Child three is in full on speech therapy, for pretty much everything. The whole alphabet. We’re going every week, and he plays games, and he practices. We’re doing everything we know how to help move him along. It’s slow, but he’s making progress.
Not Letting Fear Consume Me
The other week we were at a baseball game for the oldest, and our youngest rattled off 20 words in a row, and not one of them made sense. The people around us were nice, but my initial emotion was embarrassment. What are all these people thinking about my kid? That was quickly followed by an emotion I have more often: fear. What if this doesn’t get better? What if he has other issues we don’t know about? What’s going to happen when he gets to school? Fear, lots of it. Fear of the unknown, fear that he won’t be successful, and fear that he’ll be made fun of. All this stuff I can’t control.
As of right now, he only has a speech issue, and we might get that all figured out, and everything will be fine. I’m not going to pretend I understand what it’s like to have a special needs child, but I feel like I’m getting a small glimpse. Each little bit of progress he makes is reassuring, but it’s hard because this isn’t want I had planned.
Give It Up to God
I am not in control. I can’t control his progress. I can’t snap my fingers and zip his progress forward and catch him up. If I don’t lean on God, it’ll drive me crazy. That fear will just send me down a rabbit hole, thinking about all the worst case scenarios that might happen. Even as I type this I quickly forget about all the things he can say, and I focus on the frustrating times where I don’t know what he’s asking for. I forget about how far he has already come, because it seems like he still has so far to go.
So I’ll pray for patience and understanding. Pray that I keep myself aware of the lessons I can learn. How can this teach me to be a better dad? What shortcomings do I need to work on so that I can better support him? We all like to think about the positives of being a parent, but it’s not always easy. Whatever challenges our kids face, and I know this won’t be the last, I want to be there for them. And whatever shortcomings I have, because I have many, I pray God continues to work on me and refine me into the dad I need to be.