I was in the shower. Trying to deep condition my hair for the first time in months .Olivia my oldest was 3 and suddenly her nose was pressed against the shower door. Her voice rising above the pounding hot water insisting “Mommy, milk!” In the few minutes of quiet, while I hurriedly finished, I realized with absolute certainty that I was right about Olivia’s little sister, Zoe. She was very delayed.
Zoe was 15 months at the time. In that stage of development where some children pull ahead and do more- and some children do less catching up closer to the two-year mark. But it was in those few minutes, standing in the shower that I knew for sure. Zoe should have been approaching the start of high maintenance toddlerhood. The “I WANT IT NOW” stage. It wasn’t just that Zoe wasn’t walking or talking, or that she had just started to crawl a bit. It was her inability to express her needs. In that way, she was like an infant.
That is when I began studying the “milestone” charts with real purpose. These charts mark a child’s early development not only by gross motor skills, but also fine motor ,social and language skills. In a way, these charts served an important purpose, reaffirming my belief that the doctors should listen and pay more attention to my concerns.
Later in our journey ,these missed milestones, and Zoe’s continued delayed development confirmed her need for therapy services . These charts , my perseverance,and Zoe’s continued delayed progress did make medical and therapy professionals pay attention and treat her appropriately.
Without even realizing it, I eventually grew tired of the process of measuring missing milestones. I even stopped looking at the charts and let my mothering experience take over.I started making my own record of new accomplishments, no matter how small or subtle.
When I would see a specific positive development- that was my mark as to her progressing development. She wants to wear a blue t-shirt every day! (Her sister preferred princess dresses, but the desire of preference began about age 2). She is using pretend play by herself! Watching her play ponies exchange hello's. Zoe saying she wants to watch Dumbo- ( again!) These cues combined, told me she was progressing to the two year mark. It didn’t matter to me that she had just turned 3, I was celebrating her successes.
This is a much kinder, gentler way to live. I know my child is delayed, and other Special Needs Moms know this truth about their child too. Once this reality is known, is there really a need for us to measure? Isn’t it so much better to celebrate their success- encouraging their progress?
Zoe has many positive personality traits- qualities that are not easily measured on milestone charts. She is motivated, she is affectionate, eager to learn, happy and in her own way.. confident. Her therapists see this too. I think in some ways it helps them bond with Zoe which results in more effective therapy sessions.
But for the first time, these positive self attributes, the gifts that God gave her- came through and were part of a professional evaluation. Zoe's child psychologist completing her annual evaluation confirmed that she is 10 months behind developmentally- slightly further behind than last year. However, she gained IQ points and although still markedly delayed, this professional saw beyond her clinical scores and milestone charts.
She used many positive words to describe Zoe’s potential. She embraced Zoe’s personality, her spirit, her will, her motivation. Confirming these attributes can affect developmental success as much as an intelligence quotient. She told us stories of low functioning intelligence children progressing in mainstream environments- because of their personality and will.
As a special needs mom- my efforts to improve my daughter’s intellectual ability are limited.
I encourage her cognitive development. We practice therapy approaches in our home. We stimulate- we encourage. But there are structural limitations within her brain.
But as her mother- there is no limit in developing her spirit. I can encourage her confidence. I can positively influence her social interest, affection, behavior and nature. I can model tenacity and pray for her developing courage to continue. I can reward her will and effort each day. I can celebrate the gifts God has given her and teach her to celebrate her own accomplishments, just by being her Mom.