Little things. Quirks. Mannerisms. Like walking around with his head tilted to the side.
And then some bigger things too. Not answering to his name, avoiding eye contact, not saying a single word.
When Paul was 18-months old and not talking, I passed it off as being the third child with verbose older siblings. Gavin was a late talker, so it wasn't that big a deal. But at 21 months I started to feel like I was in denial about... something...? that I couldn't quite put my finger on. And by 22 months, when Paul stopped saying the one word he ever did have (Thank you), and wasn't even babbling anymore, I called the pediatrician.
Did you know that every single state has an early intervention program? I did not realize, at all, that our child could qualify for state services for aid until my pediatrician told me to call Maryland's Infants and Toddlers program. Picking up the phone to make that call - admitting out loud to the world that something was wrong - was the hardest part of beginning Paul's care.
I&T answered the phone with kindness and support, and that is a theme that has continued throughout my experience. Fearing an Autism diagnosis, but hoping to hear my kid was just a late talker, I requested a speech evaluation to see if Paul would qualify for services, and they immediately suggested a hearing test.
A hearing test? But Paul dances ALL THE TIME. How could there be any issues with his hearing? A week after scheduling the hearing test, Paul failed it. He failed it hard. And I knew within 30 seconds of beginning the test that he would fail it. By the time he turned his head to see where the hissing noise was coming from, I was ready to cover my own ears from the noise. And when he did turn to look, he turned in the wrong direction.
But when the audiologist ended the test, I was almost laughing from relief. Yes, relief! Paul couldn't hear, and that's why he wasn't talking!! Beyond that, the audiologist suggested that his problem seemed likely to be caused by fluid in his ears. Even though he had never had an ear infection. Fluid in his ears. And that would explain the tipped head, as Paul was compensating for his balance.
A trip to the ENT later, Paul was scheduled for bilateral tubes and an adenoidectomy. He had that surgery last week. And while I was hoping for an overnight cure and a full vocabulary, I knew that was unlikely. Even so, Paul is responding to his name. He has completely stopped tipping his head to walk. He is more involved.
Paul finally had his speech evaluation through I&T yesterday. I was not surprised that he does qualify for speech therapy. His language was rated as a 13-month old, which means he's only just experimenting with making consonant sounds. He has a long road ahead. BUT, and this is huge, of all the delays he has, they were entirely language based. He didn't exhibit a single behavioral marker for anything like Autism, Asperger's, or any of those scary problems. I still need to bring Paul back to the audiologist for a follow-up hearing test to make sure he doesn't have nerve damage in his ears. But at the very worst, we have a child with mild hearing loss. He's getting the care he needs, and he'll find the words he wants soon.
I am so thankful for Infants and Toddlers. I do feel a little guilty that I didn't ask for an evaluation sooner, but I know he's a happy, loving, intelligent child. I know Paul will do great things in this world. And I am so happy for such wonderful bad news.