Focusing On Unexpected Milestones

For as long as I can remember, the main goal we’ve had for Lucas has been to get him to speak. It’s a major moment that usually occurs fairly early in a child’s life. So when my son, who is non-verbal today at six, failed to reach it, it began to consume us.

Each year, his teachers ask what they should work on and each year it’s our number one request. There are distant seconds and thirds, but nothing really comes close.

Tunnel vision, however, isn’t always reality. There are many areas that he, like all of us, can improve upon. In many cases, you not only can’t see them, but don’t even realize they exist.

Even as they’re happening, you don’t realize what they are until you focus on them. That happened to me at his parent-teacher conference this past week. I had been looking forward to seeing his teachers and explaining all the recent advancements we’ve seen at home with his interactions. While I could have always written to them in his book, it felt too difficult to put it into written words.

In essence, we always had to seek Lucas out to join us. Now, he’s seeking us out to join him.

See? This isn’t a milestone that works in the form of a soundbite. It requires a backstory and explanation, but it’s truly a major achievement.

unexWe had always stressed the importance of making Lucas repeat certain actions. When people would come over, we would run to get him and insist that he “say hi”. He would try to duck out of it or stare for a while, but still we persisted. Occasionally he would comply, raising his little hand up in a wave and sometimes even making a hard “H” sound with his mouth. Soon, he was doing it some of the time, then most of the time, and finally nearly all of the time. Goal reached, right?

Well, there was another level that we weren’t ready for. It’s the fact that Lucas now runs up to us on a regular basis with his waving hand and a mouthed “hi” on his own. If you don’t reply in a manner he deems sufficient, he will lean his body over you and put his face right up to yours pushing for a reply. He doesn’t do it to everyone or do it incessantly, he just does it. It’s just his way of greeting us when we’re near him and showing us that he’s glad we’re there.

This is a big deal and a long time coming. I’ve written before about his crazy in-home speech teacher from the pre-school years. She would say offensive and insensitive things all the time. I always remember how she kicked us the hardest at a time when we were at our lowest.

I had just walked into the house while they were doing their lesson in the living room. I closed the door behind me and said hello to everyone. My son, as he did at the time, didn’t move his intense gaze away from the toy he was focused on. We all noticed. We always noticed when he ignored the people around him. That’s part of the reason we had a revolving door for therapists and professionals on our house. It seemed that everyone realized that this was the way things were for him…except the “expert” lounging on our carpet. I can still hear her Disney villain-like voice.

Hey. Did you see that? He didn’t even move. It’s like he didn’t even notice you walked in. It’s like you’re not even there. Lucas. Look, it’s daddy. Nothing. Does he always do that?

Uh, yeah. That’s kind of the point of you being here.

Now before anyone thinks, “Oh no way! I would have thrown her out and beaten her with a broomstick” or whatever else you can conjure, let me say that you probably wouldn’t. In that moment, the shock of the statement mixed with its truth makes it hard to react to. On top of that, when first embarking on a journey that you know will include countless professionals and doctors in your child’s life, you don’t want to start out by going nuts on his very first speech teacher for saying something that requires context to see as offensive. I wasn’t eager to get blackballed from the speech therapy community before he ever started speaking. You wouldn’t either.

While stinging in the moment, this comment didn’t weigh too heavily on me in the long term. In fact, I barely thought about it until recently. I had become so fixated on helping him become verbal, that I failed to think about some of the other hopes we had always had for him. Speech had overshadowed so many other important goals in my mind.

Fast forward to two weeks ago and I’m driving my kids to another of the many child-centric events that all blend into each other in my memories. My nine year old daughter was playing Sling Kong on my phone and Lucas was watching shows on his iPad. When I was a kid, we spent car rides drawing faces and cursewords in the condensation on the windows. Now, they have a TV everywhere. It’s the future.

Suddenly, I heard Olivia let out an annoyed grunt from the backseat. I asked her what was wrong. In her trademarked little angry voice she tattled her tale.

Lucas made me lose my game!

In my trademarked condescending dad voice, I responded.

Oh really? And how did Lucas make you lose your game?

He made me say hi to him!

I immediately understood. She had a point. I conceded but also mentioned how it was a positive.

You’re right. I guess he did. It’s nice that he wants to say hi to you though.

To this she grunted again. But then, under her breath she agreed.

Yeah.

Communication isn’t limited to speech and the ways you connect with those around you aren’t limited either. Don’t pin all your hopes on one specific milestone. We, as individuals, are made up of so much more than one or two items on a checklist. Every goal we reach is another step forward to becoming who were are meant to be.

His “hi”s are just one of many new personality spurts we’ve seen lately. They have made a world of difference in how we all interact with him and it wouldn’t have even been noticed if I had continued to be like he was that day on the carpet. But if he can learn how to move his intense gaze away from what he was focused on for us, the least we can do is learn how to do the same for him.

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