When Sam turned 2, he spoke fewer than 10 words. Aside from this delay in his speech, my husband and I had no thoughts about him having any other difficulties. He was bright, learned easily and played well with his older brother.
To improve Sam's verbal skills, I took him to several sessions with a speech pathologist. She played games and made crafts with Sam to try to coax a few words out of him. As she worked with Sam, she noted that he didn't like to have glue on his hands. That wasn't good, she told me. I don't know why. I don't like to have sticky hands. She also said it wasn't good that Sam still put things in his mouth that didn't belong there. I thought, "Oh well, he's 2. He'll grow out of it."
I was surprised the speech pathologist made these comments about Sam's behaviour. I tried to dismiss her suggestions that he had some undefined learning or behavioural difficulty, but couldn't quite erase them from my mind.
Soon afterward, Sam began working with another speech pathologist who simply focused on improving his speech.
Four months later, when Sam started nursery school two mornings a week, I let the teachers know that he was a late talker. To my surprise, within a few weeks the teachers said they were concerned about Sam's behaviour. They said he wouldn't sit still and listen to stories at circle time. None of this seemed serious to me. Sam was a two-year-old boy. He was probably interested in exploring the playroom.
As the months went by, the teachers arranged meetings to tell me about more of Sam's "troubling" behaviours. They said Sam was upset by changes in routine. For example, he was unhappy when his snack time was moved to a later time than usual. I would have been unhappy too.
When Sam was 3, his teachers recommended that an early childhood interventionist be assigned to him. The interventionist would observe Sam at nursery school and then recommend strategies to help him. I was worn down. I had come up with many rational explanations for Sam's behaviour. But maybe he did have a learning disability. Erring on the side of caution, I applied.
The first interventionist noted that Sam engaged in parallel play, meaning he played by himself rather than interacting with other kids. I thought Sam might not be interested in playing with the other kids because most of them were younger than him.
Another early childhood interventionist gave me a four-page list of psychologists who dealt with learning disabilities. I was shocked. Were my husband and I in complete denial? Did we love Sam so much we were blind to his shortcomings? Did he really need a psychologist? I began to lose sleep thinking about the problems Sam might have. I didn't think he was autistic, but who knew? What else might it be? Attention deficit disorder?
By now, Sam's verbal skills had taken off. To our delight, there was no stopping his chatter. How odd, I thought, that the teachers had not mentioned his progress.
A few months later, they recommended that Sam have a full psychological assessment that would have cost us $2,000. They were also adamant that we alert the school board to Sam's difficulties. The school would then hire an educational assistant to help Sam in his kindergarten class that fall. Otherwise, they said, Sam would surely flounder.
The teachers were aghast when I said that we would not be following their advice. At that point, kindergarten was 10 months away. Young children change dramatically in that span of time.
As to alerting the school board about his learning issues, psychology 101 taught me that a child often lives up to our expectations. If Sam's kindergarten teacher was told to expect Sam would have problems, the teacher would find problems.
Two months later, a third early childhood interventionist was assigned to Sam. After she observed him in nursery school, she said, "Sam seems to be acting like a regular kid."
Sam is now in the last few months of senior kindergarten and doing just fine. I believe his early childhood interventionists, speech therapist and nursery school teachers had the best of intentions. My impression is that they were on the lookout for children with learning difficulties. Arguably, this is as it should be. Once I raised the red flag about Sam's delayed speech, I think they started looking for other behavioural and learning issues.
However, none of these people had lengthy conversations with my husband and me about our own observations of Sam's behaviour. There can be many reasons why a child behaves a certain way in certain settings. Fortunately, our firstborn son, who is 18 months older, provided a frame of reference for us to make our own assessment of Sam's behaviour.
For three years, we needlessly worried about our little Sam because of the comments and judgments of professionals. In the fullness of time, my husband and I, like most parents, turned out to know our child better than anyone else.
Rae Blackburn lives in Richmond Hill, Ont.