Words. These are words I have had a hard time finding for a while now. In a sense I am completely cognizant of the emotions they are tied to because I’ve lived with them so long, but I haven’t been able to find the words that can express these well-worn feelings. It’s something in the deepest parts of me, and it’s something that hurts.
For a long time I didn’t share because I felt so alone in it. It was a lonely, isolating feeling to have felt something so strongly that could not be conveyed. This pain wasn’t just mine, and that was the problem. As I have drowned and struggled for words, like air, to understand what I felt, my babies struggled for words of their own.
It started about three years ago. We went to Lauren’s first gymnastics class, and it did not go well. We sat down and thought maybe it was separation anxiety, but as weeks progressed and she seemed more lost in everything around her, there was something that left us unsettled, and we had to face it. There was something more.
I had to face it after trying to go to class with her to see if I could help her connect in a way that Rob couldn’t. I failed hard. She was overwhelmed and frustrated trying to understand and follow the directions being given to her. I was frustrated with her because I thought she was just not listening. This was not a struggle at home, but she shut down hard in this new environment. She couldn’t, and we couldn’t understand why.
We went to her next pediatrician’s appointment, and talked to our doctor. She said that we should do an evaluation to see if maybe Lauren had a developmental delay. The first evaluation done was a nightmare that was bigger than the terror we felt in knowing there could be something that was going to give Lauren challenges we weren’t sure how to face.
Rob took her to the evaluation because Ethan had strep and one of us had to stay home. We were in a new place without a support system of any kind trying to get through one of the hardest things any parent could face. The lady at the appointment worked with Lauren trying to get her to answer questions for a few minutes before she grabbed her and tried to force her into a chair. Like most three year olds, being grabbed by a stranger terrified her and she lost it. My husband immediately stepped in and ended the evaluation. After less than five minutes of consideration, the lady scribbled the word “autism” on a piece of paper and tried to say Lauren would need more evaluating by a team of five. We opted to not continue with this medical practice because there was no way a child can be diagnosed responsibly with a cold in eight minutes, and this person who was brash and unconcerned tried to give Lauren a diagnosis that made her life and paperwork easier. We prayed and knew this wasn’t the place that would help Lauren. We talked to friends who were educators who knew Lauren and they backed our feeling that what happened wasn’t right.
We were so fortunate to call our doctor’s office and have her agree that this was inappropriate and probably not correct. She referred us to our local school district to see if being in a more social environment along with speech therapy would help Lauren be more communicative. Her loving investment in my daughter cracked the door to a world that changed everything for us. On the other side we found a teacher named Megan.
Megan invited us to meet her after we got set up for Lauren to be evaluated in her classroom. She was so incredibly warm and sweet that first meeting, and Lauren was so glad to meet her and check out the classroom. It was an incredible feeling to see Lauren go into a space so different than the first evaluation and engage it. It was the first flicker of hope that this could help us get her the tools she needed.
The next step was to take her for the in-class evaluation where she would attend for three weeks to see if that environment and speech therapy would be services that would help her. It was a rough start because it was a whole new place and new people, and it was the first time she had ever been left alone with people she hadn’t known her whole life. In that really hard start, Megan never failed to be supportive and kind. Robyn and Angie who also worked/work in the class have become two people who we will always love because of how loved they make Lauren feel; they have hung in there with us for over two years, and I could never express my gratitude. Lauren also got to start working with the speech therapist Chelsie at the school. Chelsie is a treasure. Lauren says all the time that Ms. Chelsie loves her. She talks about the fun she has with her, and because of Chelsie, she’s able to do that. I don’t know that you can adequately thank someone who does for your child what Chelsie has done for Lauren, but the gratitude I feel knows no bounds. It is a great thing to have people who love your child partner in helping them through challenges that they don’t know how to face; challenges you don’t know how to face.
Lauren finished her evaluation, and it was discovered that she has an expressive language delay. Another other term for this is “late talker” or simply put, it means she has a hard time sharing what she’s thinking or feeling – especially with abstract parts of language. In turn it makes understanding or processing those same abstract parts of speech more challenging. We talked about a plan to help her gain skills and best next steps to do everything we could to see her develop and succeed. This classroom and this team were the one we prayed for, and we’ve never looked back. Lauren has made tremendous strides and progress, and at the end of the school year last year, we had so much to celebrate on behalf of Lauren in the midst of a new devastating revelation: Ethan was almost two and seemed to be behind verbally as well.
The truth is that every child has a challenge, and this was the one that would be most real for our kids. This is where they would need us to rise up to support and advocate for them.