Curious about developmental delays and not sure what steps to take next, mama? One mama shares her experience, from diagnosis to improvements made through therapy.
This week, brave mama, Alexa shares her journey with her son Tyler (*not their real names), who is developmentally behind his peers. Alexa’s mummy instincts that Tyler might need therapy first kicked in before he was a year old (he is currently 3). She shares with us how she first felt when she had an inkling that he was struggling and behind in some aspects of his development, the steps she took, the changes she has seen, and the fears and hopes she still has today. We also speak with Khristine and Geraldine, both Senior Occupational and Speech Therapists with Leapfrogs Children’s Therapy Centre to find out more about how Therapy can help a child and what Tyler’s journey has been like.
Tell us how you discovered Tyler had difficulties, how you felt that time?
Very early on, I had a feeling that Tyler seemed slower when compared to other children. I would take him to the playground, and compared to other kids that I saw there, I felt that he wasn’t doing as much as they could. He wasn’t really pointing or speaking much, his motor skills and ability to respond seems not as good as they should be for his age. Of course, because there is some family history of developmental problems, I was even more alert and vigilant.
I consulted my pediatrician on several occasions who, then suggested that I seek specialist help; Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. Of course as a parent, I felt worried and sad but I decided to deal with my emotions separately and took action regardless of how I felt. Maybe it is because I am a very practical person, I saw that no matter how much upset and confusion I was experiencing, I did not want to let my struggles come in the way of Tyler getting the help he needed.
That’s often a very challenging decision and time isn’t it, accepting that your child might have special needs?
It’s not an easy thing to accept, but accepting and seeking help are two different things. I thought I would seek help first and deal with “accepting” later because I have always felt that a child has a “golden period” and if you miss it because you are the one who is in denial, then you have just jeopardized your child’s progress and wasted his time.
Didn’t you feel that you wanted to wait to give Tyler more time, or what about advice from family members to wait, or thoughts that maybe you were too anxious?
I waited for a while when he was much younger and I did my best to expose him, teach him, and encourage him, but I still felt that compared with my friends’ children and other kids I saw, there were areas he struggled with. I also made sure I brought up my concerns with my pediatrician. Because her middle child also needed therapy, she was very supportive for early therapy. To me, there’s no harm in seeking help early, in fact it’s a better approach, because if the child doesn’t need it, you feel reassured, and if the child does need it, you know that you have done everything you could.
What made you choose Leapfrogs Therapy Centre?
Initially when I started Tyler on therapy at a different place, he cried, and it was hard for me to hear him cry. I persevered for eight sessions and this didn’t improve so I was referred and recommended to come to Leapfrogs. I saw an immediate difference, because he was happy to come, always running in, and very quickly I saw progress. His speech was the most noticeable: within the early months, he started to use single words, request, and communicate. For his motor skills, because I feel that Tyler’s needs are more complicated, these emerged after his speech. I can see that Tyler is very eager, excited, calm, and happy to learn with his therapists there. He is happy when I tell him on those days that he’s going to have therapy sessions with Geraldine (his speech therapist) and Khristine (his occupational therapist).
The chemistry between the child and therapist is very important and I feel that he has that here at Leapfrogs. Initially, I peeked into the sessions because I was worried that he couldn’t tell me if something was upsetting for him, but after a short period, I could see that he had a strong bond with Geraldine and Khristine and I could stop worrying.
What advice do you have for parents with a child that might have different needs?
Seek help early! It doesn’t mean that you have to agree or accept that your child has issues. Your feelings of acceptance and seeking help are two different things and if you can separate these two and deal with your own emotions in your own private time, it will matter to your child. I also struggled with denial and felt sad at times, but I feel that these didn’t change the situation for Tyler. Sometimes, at night when I am alone, my emotions get the better of me, but when I see Tyler the next day, I put away how I feel because I feel children are sensitive to your moods.
Work with a therapist that has a strong chemistry with your child – like I did at Leapfrogs – because it makes a huge difference.
Speak with other mummies, friends, and family and be open to what they say and share. It’s helped me to gain perspective about what Tyler does and I learned that while he has special needs, not all of his struggles are because he has special needs. Typical children and their parents have the same difficulties. One example was when we traveled; Tyler didn’t eat as well on the entire trip. I was initially stressed about it, but later learnt from many parents that this is quite common, one family shared that their twins ate nothing but milk and biscuits for an entire two weeks while on holiday!
I often put myself in my child’s shoes and wonder how I would feel if I were constantly compared with other children, or not accepted or pressured to be something I am not. I find that because I do that, I am more relaxed and Tyler is happier.
Khristine, why does a child like Tyler need Occupational Therapy? Isn’t going to the pool or the playground sufficient in helping him to develop motor skills and coordination?
Children should be looked at by professionals as soon the parents notice any developmental delays, if only to investigate and rule out any underlying issues that can be impeding their development. In Tyler’s case, mama Alexa was very astute in detecting the delay in his motor skills. It was found out later, after the initial occupational therapy consult, that he was defensive to touch and his body awareness was poor.
This was the cause of his limited motor skills and not because his muscles do not have enough strength to do the activities. And even though he was going to the playground and being active, he was not getting the “right” input that his body needs. This was also the reason why he was very clingy to his mum and wary of people around him. When we started working on his sensory needs, his motor skills started to improve and more importantly, a happier Tyler started to emerge.
What do you do with a child like Tyler in your therapy sessions?
For kids like Tyler, who are “defensive”, it is important to be supportive without being pushy. They must be given the “right” amount of challenge that would move them forward but not put them over the edge. It is tricky because, as a therapist, you need to be very observant of their moves and when to step the activity up or back down. I use play, their primary occupation, as a tool to get them to engage and be motivated in doing the activities that will help enhance their sensory -motor skills. My activities are crafted around the child’s interests and I adjust the level of complexity during the session. I find that in this way, the child is more intrinsically motivated to engage and practice the movements/activities because they want to have that feeling of success.
What has it been like working with Tyler?
I used to call him my “ai-yoh boy” because when I first saw him, he was crying and clinging to his mum while saying “ai-yoh” repeatedly. But he is a totally different boy now! He is a happy camper who waves goodbye to his mum, runs towards the OT gym and sits in his foam block all ready, eager and waiting for me to start the session. We still have a long way to go with this little boy but to see him enthusiastic and ready to face new challenges gets me all excited and thrilled to have the opportunity to walk this journey with him.
Geraldine, tell us what do you do with a child that seems to struggle with his speech, language and communication development?
I usually spend the first few sessions observing, assessing and evaluating the child’s current language and communication skills through a variety of activities and talk with caregivers and any other professional to get a complete picture of what a child can and cannot do. I feel that it is crucial to observe the other skills of the child, too (e.g. attention, cognitive and critical thinking, speech, oral-motor, feeding, sensory, play) in order to get a better understanding of the underlying reasons for his struggles and to analyze how different skills impact one another.
Following that, functional and meaningful therapy goals that are set have to be functional and meaningful. I will use materials, games, and toys that are motivating for the child him so that he will want to listen and communicate. I will also work with mummy, daddy, his teachers, or any other caregiver to also make sure that we get as many opportunities in the home or in school to practice his new skills.
What are your thoughts on waiting? Is it alright to wait? How about if I showed him Flashcards or a Video to stimulate his speech and language?
I always believe in the power of early intervention! Based on my experience as a speech therapist, I have seen amazing development in many children who have received therapy intervention at an early stage and we are always so thankful that they have had help early. I understand that there is always the hope that maybe my child will be able to speak after his next birthday, as this was what happened to another friend. It is, however, important to note that sometimes a language and speech delay might worsen into a disorder, thereby making it more difficult to work on, and the gap between your child and other children might widen. Hence, if in doubt about your child’s development, it is highly recommended to seek a professional opinion.
What has it been like working with Tyler?
I always feel very delighted and motivated as a therapist whenever I compare how Tyler is in his current therapy sessions and how he was like when he first began therapy. Tyler came in as a highly stressed and anxious boy who would push away toys, avoid activities that placed any demands on him and his mother had to be present in the room. It was difficult to get him to take turns, to respond to greetings, instructions and questions. He is very different today and has made such huge leaps in a rather short span of time. Mummy is very supportive and follows through with what we suggest, which has made a huge difference. Tyler now uses sentences, communicates, and interacts with adults well and I look forward to all the changes we will soon see with him.
Thanks so much, everyone! To find out more about developmental delays and various forms of therapy for children, contact Leapfrogs at (+65) 6733 1992, or visit their website for more information.