It was fall and our daughter had turned 4 years old. We were still no closer to answers, and we had no real help. We had moved again to a different county, and I knew I needed to simply start looking for practical help instead of causes. I didn't know how to help her, and she needed it now, not in a few years.
There was an early intervention speech language program offered through a small hospital in a nearby town. The town was about 20 minutes away from where we were living, but I contacted them anyway. I set up an appointment, and arranged with my husband to drive us and watch my older and next youngest daughter. I took the reports I had, packed up my newborn and my non-verbal child and went to the clinic.
The first appointment was fairly long. I sat there, nursing my baby girl, while my older daughter was playing on the floor. I told the therapist everything that I had done so far -- the doctors, the reports, the assessments, everything. I also explained how I didn't drive at the time, and with a baby and toddler at home, it was challenging to fit in weekly appointments. I asked her to teach me what do to do with my daughter, so that I could work with her every day.
The therapist was a busy lady, kind but straight-forward and to the point. She did her own assessment of my daughter, which took about half an hour. Afterwards, she told me that my little girl had no physical issues with speech but a definite language delay. She was communicating at the time, on par with a 2 year old. And maybe understood about the same.
The first thing the SLP told me to do was to label everything. Like you do with young children, I was to take books, point out things of interest while we did things, and try to create a foundational vocabulary of concrete words for my daughter. Also, she advised that we speak slower, carefully enunciating words for her, and giving her time to process what we said.
So we went home and tried that. Soon she was repeating everything we said, as she always had, but slowly, slowly, I saw that she was associating the words with the things. She would hold up a toy and tell me the label. She never really pointed at anything, but she would sometimes tell me car or truck or baby as we passed them.
At the next appointment, about a month later, the therapist told me she saw progress, and instructed me to add description to the labels. Instead of saying just truck, label it "blue truck" or "fast truck" or "big truck". We could expand her language by building it step by step, slowly and carefully. So we went home and tried. It was hard for me to remember to speak slower, but when I slowed down, and let her process, I found that she could actually understand me. And more and more, she was letting me know what her needs were, without screaming.
At the third appointment, after Christmas, we added in action words -- the "ing" words. We told what the labels we had created were doing. The blue truck was driving. The big boy was jumping. That soft cat was purring. It was slow, but steady work. Pointing was still an issue, as she didn't respond to gestures very well, but when I could get her attention, I could work with her, and I could get her to understand me. But due to the busy nature of our life, a lot of the time I just let her play.
It was spring before I figured out how to get an Occupational Therapist involved. It was a bit tricky and convoluted, but we eventually managed to get an OT coming to our home to work on the fine motor and sensory issues we were seeing. She was awesome, and incredibly patient with both me and my daughter. Since the monthly visit was working well with speech, where the therapist would show me new techniques to work on with my daughter, I asked the same of the OT. She agreed.
So we worked on hand position and coloring, with lots of hand over hand stuff. She showed me how to teach a young child to use scissors (which was super helpful, even with my younger children!) She talked about using everyday household items to create a sensory environment for my daughter -- turns out every toddler's dream of banging on the pots and pans is great for a stimulation seeker like my daughter. She even supported us in homeschooling, and gave me a recommendation for handwriting and fine motor skills -- Handwriting without Tears programs.
Now I was balancing baby well-visits, speech therapy, OT, a toddler, homeschooling a 4th grader, and still trying to keep a home and family. To be honest, I'm not sure how I did all of it, and I'm sure I didn't manage that well. But it was definitely a busy season.
That summer, we moved into a new house, just down the street. I was able to connect with a support service for families with children with special needs. That was a God-send! We were able to get a new pediatrician through that service, and I was able to get assistance in applying for a disability credit for my daughter.
It was time to start really looking for a long-term plan. It was obvious that she was never going to "catch up", but how delayed -- how much would the delays -- affect her future? There were still lots of unanswered questions, and I was headed to the pediatrician with lots of questions and requests.