A little bit of a vent, but mostly an attempt to make sense of my own feelings and thoughts on continuing David's public system speech sessions:
David and I met at home with representatives from our local school board yesterday. The goal was to complete his evaluation for services. Again, the school board takes over his speech services the day before he turns 3.
They spent 2 hours here talking to me and playing with David. There were 3 women - a social worker, speech pathologist and, I'm not exactly sure of the qualifications of the third woman. Again, they were very nice, but of course David was less than excited about the interruption to his day. He did as well as he does in any somewhat foreign situation. He didn't talk much, but did engage with them and played some of the games they wanted him to play. Of course he didn't answer questions they asked...and 2 hours in, he was done. I mean really just done - like temper tantrum, tears, and yelling done.
Their bottom line: mild cognitive delay. That really hurt - physically. I was fine with their testing, their filling out of papers, their over exacting line of questioning: "when exactly did he start to say more than 10 words?" "at what age did he start to coo or make any sounds?" I was fine with them prodding into my parenting style and our decisions about their medical well-being, "so they've never been in a play group?" "have you considered maybe putting them in daycare?" "so you just let them (him) play without structure? How long? How often?" Then the ever patronizing, "well, you know, a child must learn to deal with structure to be in school. They must be able to pay attention and sit in a desk." I was referred to as "over indulgent" a time or 2.
Umm. Again. He's 2. For some parents, and some children, they may be ready for a school-ish program. I'm not knocking that. But I resent the implication that all children must be ready for such at a certain - ridiculously young -age; and that by going against this SOCIAL practice, I am somehow exhibiting an over-bearing or over protective behavior and thereby stunting David's development for my own needs. Is it so far fetched that I might have a more reliable opinion of my own child, with whom I literally spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, than that of a stranger who has known him for 2 hours - enough to form a first impression...of a toddler? How about we all take a small step back and put down the standardized test for a minute.
I hear it almost every week- put them in day care, a play group, a mother's day out program. I get it - they are the school system - they look at children and generalize how they should be acting at a certain chronological age. However, if David was ready- emotionally, mentally - to be in school, I would put him in school. Brent and I sacrifice alot for me to stay home and care for Mary Louise and David - and even more so that we can spend these first formative years as a family - as a primary influence. We read our children and do what we feel is best for them- regardless of relatively new (or old) societal practices- while recognizing that gaining a strong sense of autonomy is important to developing into a confident child, teen and adult.
Accordingly - we feel it's best for David to continue his therapy services, as a preventative- to head off possible issues before they become habit- and he seems to enjoy the experience and is making wonderful progress. Otherwise, I'd tell everyone to figuratively "take a hike" and be done with the running around and jumping through hoops. Mary Louise is showing signs that she would do well in a group, structured setting. We are seeking out avenues to facilitate what she seems ready for - knowing that David just isn't quite there yet. People can argue more "hard core" tactics all they want: "you need to let go sometime" "you can't just shelter them forever" "they must learn to function and listen to what is asked of them" "sometimes you just have to push them into discomfort to get results- and be ok with tantrums in response". Again, let's keep it in perspective - they are 2, not 22, not 12, not 6 or 7 when some countries actually start school. They are 2 - almost 3 and remain quite immature for their age.
Ultimately, we're all trying to do the best we can. I, like any parent, want our children to be the best people they can be - individually - not by some test score. As for the pushing, I feel that in certain instances, a push is more than warranted: when we were concerned with the lack of speech progress, I pushed to get David into programs; we were concerned with toe walking, we pushed for a consult; if undesirable behavior is exhibited, we consistently use a time out session and Mary Louise and David are not allowed out of time out if they aren't calm and quiet, we encourage them to pick up after themselves, to say prayers at bedtime, to make eye contact when we talk to them, to try new foods and textures; we believe in teaching about resources at hand - we push the kids to get their hands dirty, plant things, make constructive messes, respect animals, environment, explore the parks and natural tools at our disposal, exhibit manners around other adults, verbalize feelings - hurtful or good, express love and praise. We push in different areas - social development is something that comes with time, with maturity, and with comfort in certain situations. It doesn't have to be traumatizing. Nor does it have to come with an air of parental desertion.
You can say that I'm hyper sensitive - obviously, I am to some degree. It pains me to no end to think that people might miss how amazing David and Mary Louise are - not because of "how far they've come" or "all they've been through" but because of who they are today - as human beings - a make up of their experiences of course - but typically not the experiences upon which people who know their history most focus. To label a 2 year old, in my opinion, and in this situation, is a disservice.
I don't honestly know the solution to this. "The system" needs some organization, some way to catch at risk children- categorizing seems an obvious fix all. But am I the only one whose knee jerk reaction is to translate "mild cognitive delay" as an implication that the child is "a little slower than average" or, in the most watered down and ignorant terms, "slightly stupid"? It's offensive - not to mention flat wrong.
Welcome to life sweet David - this is one area from which I really do wish I could shelter you a bit longer. You are smart, funny, compassionate, and amazing in more ways than I can count. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and leave all others by the way side. They, I assure you, are missing out.
I guess it doesn't help that David got nervous and pitched a fit at the park the day before all of this and I watched parents actually take their child home because they didn't want to be around "that kid" -whatever that means. Thanks to those parents for making a big deal over a kid crying at the park rather than just explaining that sometimes children just have off days.
Once the results of the test was explained a little, I did agree with the opinions of the testers. They said that David did things when, and how he wanted to do them - and that he was not apt to do things on command. They felt he knew much more than he was telling them, but staying all day would not have ensured he would "perform" in the way they needed. Where we sort of disagreed was that they felt these things were a problem - I see them as toddler behavior specific to David.
Again, we went over my concerns - or one concern: expressive speech. I said that his vocabulary is wonderful but often difficult to understand.
I spoke with his weekly home therapist this morning. She recommended I really really consider day care and / or a mother's day out program a few days a week and assured me that David's tantrums would resolve in that setting in "about 4 or 5 days". She was polite about it - she's said it many times - she believes in very structured environments that mimic a school setting. She thinks David may have some mild sensory processing issues and she predicts that he may be a "quirky" kid. Having said that, she tried allowing David to lead the way during the session this morning and was really surprised with the verbal results. David exhibited tons of spontaneous sentences, words she'd never heard him say, appropriate questions and requests. In short, he did very well during the hour and was happy when Mary Louise and I came downstairs to join him.
So, what do I think? I really, in my heart, feel that David simply needs time. I think it's absolutely nothing short of absurd to characterize a child as "quirky" or as having a "mild cognitive delay" at the age of 2 and doing so only perpetuates stereotypes and useless labeling. I feel David has the very same personality now that he had at conception - regardless of his NICU stay. He needs time to mature, time to develop into his own person, time to PLAY and time to be a kid.
When did we all get so very focused on taking this away? From the time a child is born, parents face criticism and pressure - do you breast feed or bottle feed. How long? Is the child on solids yet - hurry and start them. Cosleeping is wrong. Crib sleep is traumatizing. Take away the pacifier and for goodness sake, get them socialized. You must have a Bumbo seat and an exer-saucer is now a non-negotiable baby accessory. Your child cannot develop properly without some sort of electronic gaming device and/ or televised tutoring system. Enough already. There is no right. Do the best you can with the knowledge at hand...and above all, enjoy it. Have fun. Love those babies like no one else can.
I will be contacted again in a month or so to discuss official results of the testing and to begin the process of forming an IEP (individualized education plan). Then we will talk about services available in our area. Services are done throughout the regular school year - meaning that with David's birthday being at the end of April, he'll have a month or so of services before they let out for the summer.
Until then, me and my quirky baby boy (and girl) will be off playing outside- in the dirt, playing in paint, going to the children's museum, the park, and sometimes the store, baking bread and cookies, pancakes and spaghetti, and taking part in an assortment of other non-scripted activities on a whim and whenever possible, Dada will tag along for the fun - because, in this house, that's the way we do things.
P.S. I feel better now - and less muddled. Thanks.