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Worry builds as talking waits

By BRIDGET GRUMET
Published March 12, 2007


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The folks at our pediatrician's office were concerned.

Toby was doing a great many things - feeding himself, pointing at things I named, scurrying around like an over-caffeinated crab - but at 15 months, he was not walking or talking.

I tried not to worry. Which of course means I worried a great deal.

It was impossible not to notice the toddlers in our play group, Toby's age and younger, who had been walking and gabbing for months. By 15 months, most tots are walking fairly well and using at least two words, the nurse practitioner at our pediatrician's office told us.

So he gently urged us to take Toby to a specialist, just to make sure these weren't the first signs of developmental issues to come.

Outwardly I was calm and reasonable. Inside I was becoming the overprotective lioness, at once determined to get my cub whatever he needed - and ready to maul anyone who dared call him "slow."

* * *

For months already, my husband, Wayne, and I had been trying all kinds of things to help Toby along. We got him a walker toy for Christmas, but he didn't seem terribly interested. He was quite content to play standing at the coffee table and shuffle his way around the living room, holding onto the couch -- but he'd rather crawl than take an independent step toward our outstretched arms.

As for talking, my husband and I chatted to Toby constantly. He often babbled up a storm, but with no intelligible reciprocation.

I tried to reassure myself that Toby was just developing at his own pace. After all, he didn't roll over until 6 months and didn't start crawling until 8 months - a month or two later than the "standard." But the worries kept coming back and I began turning them on myself: I was somehow failing him.

* * *

Toby and I got up early one Friday for the short trip to the All Children's Hospital outpatient center in New Port Richey. A mountain of paperwork awaited.

As I pored through the medical history forms on the clipboard, I had a reality check. Toby didn't have seizures, or hereditary diseases, or cancer. He was just, well, moving at his own pace.

And moving out of the room.

Unimpressed with the toys I'd brought from home, Toby crawled out of the waiting area to explore the facility at large. I swept him up and brought him back to our seats. Giggling, he began crawling back toward the door. We repeated this exercise until I managed to finish the forms, nearly out of breath.

Something told me this kid would be walking in no time.

Our appointments that day were with the speech and hearing folks. They found his hearing was fine and his development in most ways was right on track. But they too were concerned that Toby hadn't uttered a word.

They suggested speech therapy. I told them we'd think about it.

* * *

As I shared my situation with other folks who have kids, the reaction ranged from "what?!" to "be glad." I heard encouraging tales of youngsters who simply hit those milestones at 16, 17, or 18 months of age and grew up fine. And I heard horror stories about the things walking, talking kids get into.

I read about how stay-at-home children often talk later than day care kids, especially if they have a consistent routine in which their needs are anticipated. Wayne and I joked that Toby must have no complaints.

We also realized that there was an unintended consequence from our staggered work schedules, designed so that Toby was always with one of us instead of in day care. Toby hardly ever sees both of his parents in the same room, let alone conversing with each other. Perhaps our well-intentioned chatter with Toby was teaching him more about monologues than dialogues.

* * *

A week and a half after our visit to All Children's, I was feeding Toby some goldfish crackers when he said it.

Ma.

"More?" I asked excitedly, in disbelief that he could be using the word I've been using at his mealtimes for, well, months now.

Ma.

I gave him more. Which he ate. And I waited.

Ma.

Okay, so he didn't have the "r" sound in there. But he had the right idea.

"Good!" I said, dishing out more goldfish. "Mooorr."

* * *

The next morning the phone rang. The good folks at All Children's were ready to start scheduling Toby's speech therapy. I told them Toby just said his first word, and we were going to wait and see if he was going to come along on his own.

They were supportive and understanding.

About a month has passed since then, and Toby has added "all gone" and "Dada" to his vocabulary and yes, I'm pushing "Mama" pretty hard. He occasionally plays with his walker. He will walk if you hold one or both of his hands, and he's taken a few completely unassisted steps.

He's getting there, and he's shown us what he's capable of:

More.

Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached in west Pasco at (727) 869-6258 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6258. Her e-mail address is bgrumet@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 11, 2007, 21:58:47]


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