Labels and Child Development {My Eureka Moment}

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“It all comes out in the wash.” That’s what a friend said to me when I was feverishly worrying about another skill my then toddler wasn’t demonstrating. At this point in my son’s little life, I was so completely focused on everything that he couldn’t do that I let all of his precious can-dos fall by the wayside. I felt that because I was his mother, and because I have a master’s degree in education and a background in Autism, I had to be the one to get him past all of those important milestones and teach him everything he needed to know. Plus: Mom Guilt!

At 15 months, he was diagnosed with a language delay and was also showing signs of delays in social skills, motor skills, and self-help skills. From then on, I had to be the one to point out all of things my son couldn’t do when his grandparents and great grandparents questioned his need for therapy. I spent all my time thinking about what he wasn’t doing compared to his peers. When my family would say, “Look at how well he’s doing!” I would say, “Look at what he should be doing and isn’t.”

I thought I would be my son’s biggest cheerleader, but instead, I was his biggest detractor. The negativity was overwhelming, but if I didn’t worry about him, who would? Not my extremely laid-back husband or my parents with their rose-colored, first-grandchild glasses. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of “what else can’t he do.”

Then we finally had our appointment with the developmental pediatrician. We talked for about an hour and she completed a diagnostic assessment for autism based on her observations during the appointment and on my comments about his behavior and development. According to the assessment, he didn’t meet the criteria for autism, but according to her 20 plus years of experience as a developmental pediatrician, my son was showing definite symptoms of autism. All of a sudden, I felt validated. Someone was finally seeing what I was seeing! I wasn’t the bad guy, I was right. The doctor let me decide whether or not I wanted her to put Autism as my son’s official diagnosis on the report. Finally, I got to be in a position to choose my son’s strengths over his challenges. I got to focus on all of the progress he’s been making and all the skills he had learned and mastered.

I decided we didn’t need the diagnosis. We’re lucky to be able to make that decision for ourselves and we’re lucky to have found the right combination of therapy and preschool to keep our son progressing and overcoming his challenges.

He still has a long way to go and sometimes the challenges still overwhelm me, but ever since that doctor visit where I finally found validation and understanding for my concerns, I’ve been able to take my friend’s advice to heart. “It all comes out in the wash” isn’t exactly true for us. Our experience was more like, “it all comes out in the wash after prepping with stain remover and pre-rinsing.” But I am learning to focus on the challenges that affect my son’s quality of life in the moment, and to let go of the little things that we can tackle slowly overtime.

External validation is crucial and we all know how good it feels to be right. So the next time a mom gets the courage to express her concerns about her child, don’t downplay it in an attempt to be kind. Just listen and tell her what a good mom she is for wanting to get her kiddo help.  I am my son’s biggest cheerleader these days and I am confident that he will be able to conquer whatever life throws at him. Now back to the mountains of actual laundry that need to be tackled.

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