Andrew was two and a half when we got the official diagnosis. We had known for a while that he was different from other kids. He didn't talk, and he was socially withdrawn. At first and for a long time I just thought I was a bad mother. I wondered what I was doing that made my kid so much weepier and clingier than the other kids, so insistent on staying in my lap, so unwilling to play with the other kids. He was beautiful and healthy and had crawled, sat up, and walked exactly when he was supposed to. He knew his letters and could do challenging puzzles. That meant that his oddness and his nervousness were the result of bad parenting, right? What was I doing wrong? Did I coddle him too much, hold him too much, let him watch TV too much? He was my firstborn at that point still my only child and being a mother was a new and bewildering experience.
But the language thing surely that couldn't be my fault? I talked to him all the time, repeated back his babbling sounds, did everything parents are supposed to do to encourage language development. And still he wasn't talking.
Was I a bad mother, or was there something seriously wrong with him? I wasn't even sure which one I was rooting for. I just wished he'd start acting normal.
The Pediatrician Gets Involved
I remember Andrew's two-year checkup, because it was the first time his delayed language came up as an issue. Early in the appointment, I had accidentally dropped something that rolled under the chair, and Andrew leaned over to see where the object had gone. The pediatrician said at the end of the appointment that he was concerned Andrew still wasn't talking, given how "verbal" his parents were (i.e., we talked a lot), but then he said that he was reassured by the "appropriateness" of Andrew's interest in the dropped object. The doctor said he just wasn't sure whether there was a problem there or not, so he left the decision of whether to see a speech pathologist up to us.
I was wildly relieved to hear someone I liked and trusted say that he didn't see anything obviously wrong with Andrew, apart from a minor speech delay so relieved that I ignored the little voice in my head that was saying, "But I know he's different from other kids." The pediatrician was an expert, right? And he wasn't particularly worried? Great. I wanted so badly to believe that there wasn't anything really wrong with Andrew that I didn't acknowledge the fact that I spent a lot more time with Andrew than the doctor was able to, and I just ran out of there as fast as I could. But six months later, at the next checkup, the pediatrician admitted he was now concerned about Andrew's lack of speech and recommended we take him to a speech therapist named Roberta Poster.
So we did. We watched Roberta get to know Andrew and hoped she'd tell us that we were being silly, that he was perfectly normal, that we should just go home and enjoy him and he'd be fine.