We sat at my kitchen table on a sunny Spring morning. A pair of child developmental professionals contracted by the state sat before me as my 16-month-old zeroed in on their stack of papers with the hopes of crumpling each one by hand. Instead, I offered him a banana, hoping to diffuse the impending toddler tantrum. He can’t walk yet, but he certainly knows how to make his mark. And boy, did he ever on that sunny morning when he was evaluated for Early Intervention. As they analyzed the way he picked up tiny toys or the flash cards that he wanted to eat, without their professional assessment, I knew, just like when I first made the call for the evaluation, that my toddler wasn’t meeting his milestones.
Of all the advice and anecdotes I was offered before having my first son, the most sage words I received about parenting is to trust my instincts. Now that my second son is well into the toddler stage, and with special medical needs at that, my parental instinct is my most trusted asset. Since the baby was diagnosed with epilepsy at 4 months old, I’ve had to learn how to navigate his needs. Whether they’re the typical nuances that a growing child displays, his triggers for epileptic episodes or tapping into resources to help with his development, it’s always my hope that my kid is happy as we strive for healthy.
It’s been two months since the initial evaluation, and we have a team of therapists that come to the house weekly. Through our state’s Early Intervention program, baby was assigned weekly visits from physical and developmental therapists and monthly visits from a speech therapist. Because baby was so young when I started the Early Intervention process, many peers asked me how I “knew” what to do. As in, how did I know that my baby needed special help with reaching milestones. Easy answer? Instinct. I just knew.
Since the baby was labeled high risk for delays early on, aside from being his biggest advocate, at this stage of toddlerhood, playtime has been an integral part of development.
It’s aching to watch my toddler cry because he can’t chase after other kids his age. It’s even worse when he makes strides in his development, only to take a few steps back because of another episode. On the day Joshua took his very first unassisted steps at 18 months old, that same night we were in the ER because he suffered another breakthrough seizure. But as his physical therapist suggested this week, in terms of neurological issues and physical development, in our case, it’s literally two steps forward and two steps back.
Setbacks aside, Josh’s therapy has helped him in so many ways. Since he’s not completely mobile on his feet on his own, his therapists have integrated elevated play and use plenty of toys in his therapy. The toys vary from puzzles to enhance his cognitive skills to musical activity sets that are used as motivators to get him walking. His most favorite toys, though, are always the musical instruments, especially the drumsticks. Because music is a big part of our home, the baby drum tends to be the physical therapist’s go-to motivator to get him to walk.
Developmental therapy addresses a child’s global development and focuses on how they develop from birth to 5 years old. For Josh, this specific therapy involves the most amount of play. Every week, the developmental therapist has become his appointed playmate, incorporating many classic and stationary toys, as well as toys such as mini-parachutes to introduce new types of self-awareness. Even despite his most recent struggle, watching this little boy’s excitement over the new toys the developmental therapist brings each week validates the importance of trusting my judgment.
It’s true that every child is a different creature, in that their development varies, but ultimately, comparing my kid to a typical toddler’s development is more hurtful than anything else. As we continue this journey with baby’s development, therapy, and specialized playtime, we’re embracing each step back and heralding each step forward.