This is an update of a blog I wrote back in October of last year.
The journey to age four with Henry has been much more difficult than it was with our eldest child. Right from the start it seemed like my beautiful, golden-haired littlest boy knew precisely what he wanted and he wasn’t going to do things any other way. My eldest, Charlie, is laid back and lives to please. He does whatever he’s asked the first time and he’s as easy-going as they come. With Henry, if you ask him to do something once then you’ll have to ask him another twenty times.
Henry was due to arrive at Halloween 2010, but he surprised us by arriving 5 hours early. The night he was born, he screamed every time I put him in the little cot that was attached to my hospital bed. I managed a few hours sleep with him snuggled in my arms. Over the next few months, I soon got used to him wanting that closeness, which was a good thing as that’s the way Henry and I were to sleep every night for the next two and a half years! It was a habit we were told we had to break (of course I was making a rod for my own back!), but we got used to it and there was no better thing in the world than waking up to my gorgeous, happy baby.
Henry settled in well and he was always smiling and content. Back then, everyone commented on what a well behaved little baby he was. Big brother Charlie adored him and Henry fed well and hit all those rolling over, sitting up, crawling, standing and walking milestones that we parents pointlessly obsess about.
By eighteen months we realised Henry’s speech was non-existent. We tried not to be too concerned about it as Charlie, who had a gluey ear, was a late talker too (plus, I knew it was common with boys). It had been a hard slog with Charlie and I didn’t particularly relish the thought of going through it all again, but even at eighteen months Charlie had a few recognisable sounds, whereas Henry wasn’t saying anything at all.
What you find if your child has a noticeable developmental delay is that everybody will have an opinion on why it has happened and what will put it right and that these often unhelpful and occasionally hurtful opinions, fly in the face of what medical professionals will tell you and what a few hours internet research will bring to light. So, with Henry passing all the hearing tests, I then had to deal with not just a child who was getting more and more frustrated that he couldn’t communicate, but with the ‘world’ telling me what I had to do to solve my “problem.” Why was my happy, gorgeous little boy deemed a “problem”?
It was hard seeing Henry struggle. He’s my strong-willed one as it is and his behaviour was affected by his inability to make himself understood. What I found even more difficult was the assumptions that were made. We hear all the time that bright children have lots of language early, whilst a child who doesn’t communicate is behind – and will probably stay behind. I remember crying after reading a newspaper opinion article written by some woman (with no professional credentials) who blamed late speech on lazy, uneducated parents with poor vocabularies who never read to their child and who sat them in front of iPads instead of talking to them. It hit me like a brick. People who don’t know any better, will assume my child isn’t talked to, that he isn’t read to or that his parents are stupid. Our reality was so far removed from these hurtful assumptions. Henry was read to every day, we have hundreds of books and my vocabulary is larger than anybody else I knew, so why was my child not talking? What was I doing wrong?
Then there was the ubiquitous competitive mummy “friends” who saw Henry as a benchmark to compare their parenting. Henry couldn’t talk, so this made their child brilliant. The message came loud and clear from many directions and it came to my face, as well as behind my back. “Oh, we’re going to softplay with Elizabeth and Henry this afternoon, but it’s no fun for Amelia. She get’s nothing at all out of playing with Henry as he’s so far behind her. It’s so hard for her to have to play with him.” I even had one “friend” suggest (behind my back) that Henry’s lack of speech was due to me loving him less than his brother and sister.
You may think that dealing with such negative comments has knocked my confidence and in some ways it has, but I never once lost confidence in Henry. My little boy is bright, funny, thoughtful, loving and he has the concentration level of a criminal genius. He gets up to antics that Charlie would never have dreamt of. He dissasembles anything which will dissasemble to see how it works and he can usually put it back together again. Henry is a physical, active learner. He’s a thinker and a do-er and a problem solver.
Henry flew past every single one of those early development milestones – except one. Just one. The one that seems to be deemed most important, but still just one out of hundreds. He was running, jumping and skipping when the milestone charts said he should be learning to cruise around the furniture, he was eating with a knife and a fork when the charts said he should be starting finger foods and he was dressing himself and putting on his own shoes when others his age were still crawling in babygros. Did it really mean so much that he couldn’t talk?
Henry’s pre-school have been fantastic with him and I am thankful that they appreciated all the wonderful things about him and all the amazing things he can do without ever signalling to me that they thought he has a problem or that his speech was an “issue”. Instead, I was told he would talk when he was ready and it would be like flicking on a switch. They were absolutely right. The Christmas following his third birthday, Henry started talking and now at four and a half years old he never shuts up. He sings, he tells jokes and he does impressions. He has almost caught up, precisely as I hoped he would.
So, the milestone charts have been binned in our house – forever – because far more important than a tick in a box are all the things about Henry that can’t be measured on a scale: the kindness he shows to his friends; his eagerness to be helpful to Mummy and Daddy; his never-ending love of “Dakkin Dakkida” (Captain America) and Mary Poppins; his excitement at going on an adventure (whether it is on holiday or just to the shops) and his smile which lights up the room when he gets a hug from his brother or sister.
With my third child I have vowed never to look once at the milestone charts. Mathilde was two in February and I have no idea whether she’s “on track” or not and I don’t care whether her boxes get ticked early or late, I don’t mind if she’s deemed ‘advanced’ or ‘behind’ as she’s absolutely perfect to me just the way she is.