Rainy, rainy, Super Bowl Sunday. The kids are napping, the dogs are chowing down on some deer antlers, and I’m sitting here in my pajamas catching up on some blogging. If only this Sunday could last forever, but we’re about to tackle another week of deployment and the countdown to homecoming has really begun. I’m here with a few thoughts on Mitchell’s speech today. I’ll start by saying that I am so proud of this boy. He has worked so hard over the last six months on his speech, and he’s made some huge improvements. I’m hoping this might help any other families (specifically military families) navigate the world of speech therapies in the confusion of military healthcare and Tricare, etc. I am by no means an expert, but I’ve definitely learned a lot about this process along the way!
I’ve briefly mentioned Mitchell’s speech on the blog before, but we’ll back up to one year old Mitchell and tell the whole story. That boy spit out a big fat “Da-da” as his first word. And it was his only word for awhile, until “key” (blankie) joined the ranks of Mitchell’s vocabulary. He was exceptionally talented at animal sounds, but as far as “real” words go, there weren’t many. I remember the day he said “Mama” for the first time, and the only time, until he turned two. I had a sneaking suspicion he might be a little delayed in this area, so at his two year well child check up, I brought it up to the doctor. They don’t even evaluate speech until children are two. So when I told the doctor that he still had less than ten words in his vocabulary at this appointment, they agreed with me that it would be good for him to get evaluated and potentially receive some services to kickstart the speech.
I first spoke to EDIS (Educational and Development Intervention Services). They offered, very persistently, to have a therapist come to the home and evaluate Mitchell to see what he qualifies for. I’ve heard some great things about this program, but for us, it just wasn’t the right fit. I personally think their persistence was an effort to keep his services on base, but the problem with this was that the person providing him services would not necessarily be a speech therapist. They could be an occupational therapist, because their strategy is to “treat the patient as a whole,” as it was explained to me. Again, great for other kids, but it didn’t quite fit our needs since his only delay was in speech, specifically, expressive speech.
Mitchell’s receptive language is great. He understands everything we tell him as a two year old should. If he doesn’t follow directions, it’s because he’s a typical two year old and not because he doesn’t get it. His expressive language, or being able to say out loud what he is thinking, is where we run into the problem. So, I said no thank you to EDIS (again, after much persistence) and got a referral to a speech practice off base. Great decision.
Once Mitchell turned two, he was eligible for speech services two times per week (completely covered by Tricare). So our amazing sitter, Amelia (her blog is here!), picks him up from daycare twice a week and takes him to his therapy. His current therapist is great, and Mitchell loves her to pieces. When we pull into the parking lot, he immediately recognizes the building and exclaims, “Peesh!” He sits on the edge of his chair in the waiting room, waiting for her to walk out of the room to come get him. As soon as he sees her, his eyes light up, and he runs straight back to her classroom. Some days when we pull into daycare, he asks to go to speech instead. It makes this process a lot easier knowing he is happy about the therapy, and thinks of it like 1-on-1 playtime.
In the last six months, this boy has made some amazing progress. At first we were 100% focused on building vocabulary. For a boy who didn’t call me “Mama” until he was two, I’m amazed at how far he’s come. He’s built that tiny little vocabulary up and even started linking two words together sometimes. My personal favorite speech accomplishment thus far is that he has learned the sentence, “I did it,” and he says it loud and proud each and every time. That’s a sure way to make a Mommy’s heart fill right up. We’ve moved onto focusing on articulation, specifically with two letter words and linking words together, because the clarity (and Mommy’s comprehension) starts going downhill really quick.
Though I’ve noticed big improvements since he turned two, we still have a long way to go. He finished up his formal evaluation last week, and he’s still has a mild delay in his expressive language. Without diving too much into all the mumble-jumble of the evaluation, he’s ranking in the 3rd percentile for his articulation (which is what we’ve been focusing on!), but he obviously still has work to do.
The good news is, he’s nearly 34 months, which is when he starts qualifying for services through the base school system! When I learned this initially, my first question is whether this service would replace or supplement his current therapy, because the last thing we want to do is take him out of where he’s at. We’re extremely happy with his current situation. But the answer was not only that he qualifies for both services, but our current therapist knows the school therapist, and they are not new at working together to coordinate therapy plans for their speech kids! Such a blessing! He only needs a 35% delay to qualify for the school’s services (and we definitely meet that requirement), so starting in the fall, he will have a second therapy helping his progress too! (It gets better). We’re in the process of setting him up an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), which will dictate how he will be treated, and this includes the therapist actually coming into his daycare setting twice a week and giving him 1-on-1 therapy in his everyday environment. (And I don’t have to pay a sitter to drive him there, double bonus!) We won’t actually start the four days a week until fall (school’s out for the summer!), but we’re getting a jumpstart on the enrollment process since it’s not the quickest one, so I’ve been told. So. Long term plan:
1. Speech Therapy through summer.
2. Speech Therapy and School Speech Therapy next fall.
3. Pre-K (what?!?!?!) and both therapies the following fall.
4. KINDERGARTEN and therapies as needed. (Who knows what could happen by then?)
Of course, this will all be adjusted as we go, but for now, that’s where we are. What I’ve learned in this process thus far is that it’s 90% up to the parent to advocate for your child. If I never brought it up at his appointment and requested the services, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have been offered. If I hadn’t declined EDIS and insisted that he see an actual speech therapist, I don’t think they would have referred us off base. And if I did not contact the school and request an evaluation and IEP, he definitely wouldn’t be receiving services there.
We’ve received a lot of advice along our little speech journey thus far, and I’ll admit to biting my tongue quite often. Countless people have said, “Well, my child didn’t talk until he went to kindergarten!” or, “He’s a boy so he’ll just start later.” I do my best not to fall in the trap of comparing children, because they’re all so different. Julia is already starting to link two words together (so proud of her!!!), but Mitchell is still working on the same thing. Knowing they’re only 18 months apart, she very well may catch him in some areas. But this boy is so talented at so many things. After all, he’s learning how to play hockey at TWO. He’s thriving in his daycare environment and has great social skills. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, this is a very minimal delay to have, and for that, we’re very grateful. I’ll also admit it’s not always easy to see parents of his peers posting videos on Facebook of their children singing their ABC’s or singing songs in the car. I know he’ll catch up eventually, but I also realize this boy is a June birthday, meaning he’ll be there very youngest in his grade. So our goal is to get him all of the services and therapies he needs now, so he’s set up for success when he starts kindergarten! And lastly, I must say, walking my little baby boy into the elementary school was so strange! How did we get here?!