“He’ll catch up,” you said. I know you mean well and that you’re telling me this because you want to be encouraging and helpful, and I appreciate that. But the thing is – he probably won’t catch up. Ever.
He’ll make incredible strides, and he’ll work hard. He has worked so hard. When he was three years old, he said “ah” for “water” and “hah” for helicopter. The way we learned to tell the difference was by teaching him to tap on his chest when he meant helicopter to mimic the sound of the blades in the sky.
His first speech therapist didn’t even work on speech with him. She simply tried to get him to pay attention to her for what started as 10 seconds with the goal of gradually getting to 20 minutes. “Just touch Daddy’s ear and you can get down,” we’d say. He’d cry and try to climb out of his highchair. He’d bite on his shirt and cry some more. I’d cry. It was awful.
You saying “he’ll catch up” felt like a dismissal of what progress we’d made. It made the road ahead of us feel longer. After all, we were working on a skill that most kids would have mastered two years earlier. If we couldn’t get him to touch his dad’s ear at almost three-years-old, would he ever be in a place where he could start working on saying “water?”
Kids with special needs will work to accomplish goals that include eating, making eye contact and communicating. Sometimes communication happens though words. Sometimes, those words need a different way out – through a Talker or via flash cards. Some kids don’t know how to play and may need to be taught.
Of course we have faith that they will learn to play, and that faith carries us through some dark worries. Our children will continue to surprise us with new abilities and progress and we will be extremely proud. Grateful.
We will rejoice and dance and throw parties in honor of newly learned skills. Rejoice with us. But, please, don’t tell us that they’ll catch up.
Telling a special needs parent that her child will catch up makes us feel as if we’re doing something wrong. That if only we and our kid’s therapists were able to stumble on the perfect blend of education and therapy and effort, if we just tried a little bit harder, our kids would be “normal.”
But you know what? They’re already normal. Normal is that every snowflake is different.
Normal is that so are we. Being different IS normal. And sometimes, somebody’s normal means never catching up.
Everybody learns important coping skills so that they’re able to navigate their surroundings and fit in – as best they can – with the rest of us. They will work, struggle even, to accomplish what many of us take for granted on a regular basis and they will laugh and cry and mourn and hope.
They will be their own normal.
Our children will work hard. They will develop. They will amaze us with their tenacity and the sheer joy that we see in their eyes. They will amaze us, but they probably will never ever catch up.
And that’s okay.
We’ve come to terms with it, mostly. So rather than focusing on trying to make us feel better with encouraging words that our kids will catch up, instead, please focus on accepting them and creating Our Land for them, so that every single one of them, and us, will be embraced for the abilities and the uniqueness that make us who we are.
After all, each of us are already our own versions of normal.