Speech Delay or Autism? pt 1 of 3

child pointingOh, how I longed to hear Taylor talk. From the age of 18 months it was his language skills, or lack thereof, that was our first red flag.

I had a list of his words that I kept on the refrigerator. Every time he said a new word I wrote it down immediately.

Looking back, I think some of those words may have been more wishful thinking on my part than him actually saying it. If it was close enough that was good enough for me. By the time he was two years old, this list only consisted of 26 words.

I knew something wasn’t right.

He was able to communicate to us in his own way, though. For instance, he could point that little finger. If he wanted something, he would point and grunt. Sometimes grabbing our hands and taking us to where he wanted to be and show us what he needed or wanted. We knew when he was thirsty or hungry or sleepy. We knew when he was happy, sad, angry or even frustrated. He could say a few single words but there was nothing even as simple as “mommy, I tired,” or “look mommy” that came out of his mouth. The words he did say were ill pronounced and only his dad and I really understood what he was saying. Mostly, it was the pointing and grunting.

I knew he needed speech therapy and every time we went for one of his checkups I would bring it up to his pediatrician.

“He’s fine, just a little behind.” …“Boys usually develop a little slower than girls.” …“He will catch up.” was what I was told every single time.

Well, Taylor wasn’t “catching up” and I was more frustrated than ever that no one was listening to me. I don’t think I can express how badly I longed to hear Taylor say the word “Mommy” and that day just wouldn’t seem to come. He was almost two, he should be saying “Mommy”!

Finally, when Taylor was two and half years old, his pediatrician acknowledged that Taylor needed speech therapy.

It never occurred to me at the time that it would be so much more than just a speech delay. I knew nothing about autism at that time. What I did know was that I had a happy, loving and very curious little boy that just wouldn’t talk.

We took him for his first visit to the speech therapist and to be honest, I was freaking out. I knew Taylor needed speech therapy but this was going to cost us so much money! How were we going to be able to make this happen?

The speech therapist worked with Taylor for about 30 minutes and then called us into his office. What he said confirmed what I already knew. Taylor was going to need a lot of speech therapy, no less than two days a week, possibly three. Before I could go into panic mode, he explained to us that Taylor would qualify for free speech therapy. FREE?

Yes. FREE.

“It never occurred to me at the time that it would be so much more than just a speech delay. I knew nothing about autism at that time. What I did know was that I had a happy, loving and very curious little boy that just wouldn’t talk.”

He explained that most people don’t know about it, but if your child is developmentally delayed in anyway, they qualify for free services. The state pays for this, but if you don’t ask, no one will tell you. At least that was the case back in 1999. So ASK!

From this point, we visited Children’s South in Birmingham, who evaluated Taylor and then set him up with a speech therapist. She would come out to see him for their sessions. This was such a relief to both my husband and myself. We both worked full time and were trying to figure out how we would get Taylor to therapy with our strict job schedules.

What a relief it was to know that she would actually be going to his daycare twice a week to work with him. She was so great with him, too. She really cared about him and his progress and that was evident on her very first visit. Taylor could sense it as well and he started to really look forward to their time together.

Her very first goal was to have Taylor “use his words” when he wanted something.

As I mentioned before, he had said a few words up until this point, but never a full sentence.

Well, let me elaborate a bit. He actually had said full sentences, but they were not his own. The sentences he said were echolalia from his videos and usually it was only his dad and I that could understand him. It gave us hope, though. If he could say words at all, I was determined that I would one day have a conversation with my child.

His speech therapist would call me each evening after their sessions so she could tell me what she was working on with Taylor and I could continue the process at home with him.

During her sessions, she always brought a bag of toys. Taylor LOVED that bag of toys. The first day, she just dumped it out on the floor so that Taylor could see all the goodies that were inside. That was the only time she did that. From that point on, Taylor had to “use his words” to get a toy from the bag.

He had to say “hi” to her before she would even consider giving him anything out of the bag and she would point to her face to encourage him to look at her while he was saying “hi” to her. He really, really struggled with the eye contact, but he caught on really fast to saying “hi” to her. He wanted the toy train! Yes, it was a reward system but it worked for my 2 year old.

The next thing she did was give him a phrase he could plug into most situations. It was “May I have…?”

Taylor learned this phrase and would then fill in what his need or want was. To get a toy from her bag, he had to say “May I have…?” and then add to the sentence whatever it was that he wanted.

He began to use it outside of his therapy sessions within a few sessions. I was beyond excited!

“May I have…milk?”

“May I have…outside?”

“May I have…Boos coos?” (Blue’s Clues)

My favorite memory of him using this phrase was one night while Mike and I were watching TV. Taylor wanted his daddy to get up. He came over to Mike and was pulling on his hand, tugging and tugging trying his hardest to get his daddy to stand up. Mike told him to “use your words”.

Taylor stopped, rubbing his finger on his lip, thinking. Then he grabbed his daddy’s hand again and said “May I have…Daddy come here.”

IT WAS AMAZING! It was Taylor’s first full sentence that he had created. Yes, the first three words were already formed but not the rest! He did it!

Mike jumped up immediately and headed off with Taylor. I sat on the couch and cried. I never thought six little words could bring me such joy!

This was the beginning of how Taylor’s language skills would develop. He learned language in chunks. What I mean by that is he would learn a phrase and then learn how to change it to fit his needs at that moment. What helped him the most was watching his videos.

Movie videos would become a HUGE part of Taylor’s life, not only as something he loved but also as a tool for his speech development.

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