Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of an older mom like you!
The toddler years were an interesting period in our lives as parents. When the girls were in the NICU, we were told that we should expect developmental delays. The doctors said that the girls would probably be late talking and walking. They might have hearing or vision problems. After all, they were “thirty-two weekers.” They were preemies.
So, we started our period as new parents with a lot of trepidation. Still, this fear went away relatively quickly because the girls didn’t have any vision problems. They didn’t have any issues with their hearing. So we had overcome two major hurdles without doing much of anything.
And our babies were so incredibly beautiful. Everybody wanted to hold them, and everybody wanted to play with them. They were always smiling. They were always laughing. It was great! Everything was great. And they both started walking pretty much at the same time. Emmi did more of a crawl and then walked. Andy did this half walk, half-crawl thing, where she crawled with one leg and walked with the other. They both moved from this crawling phase relatively quickly. There were no signs of problems. Everything was going wonderfully.
So, we didn’t know what to expect from the toddler years. There didn’t seem to be any reason for concern. But when you have twins, it’s tough not to notice when there’s something off. And in our case, Emmi started talking pretty clearly, really early on—but not Andy. That isn’t to say she didn’t babble. They both did, and they had their own special twin language.
I remember this one time we were in the basement of our house in Michigan, which was this gigantic playroom that had this tiny, little office for mom on the side. At this time, my husband and I were considering going through IVF a second time because I really wanted more children. I always wanted four kids. I’m talking to the girls, and for some reason or another, the conversation about babies came up. I said, “You know, mommy’s thinking about more babies. What do you think?”
And Emmi said, “Yes, yes, mommy! I want babies!”
Andy stood up really firmly, got close to me, and said, “NO!”
And I said, “But wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a big sister?”
Emmi was like, “Yes, yes, mommy! It would be so wonderful!”
And then Andy whipped her head around, looked at Emmi, got close to her, and said, “NO!”
Emmi says, “Yes. Yes! A baby would be wonderful, Andy!”
Andy pulls Emmi by the hand all the way to the back of the basement, and I could hear all their little babble going on. Then they come back, and Emmi says, “No, baby!”
What they said to one another, I have no idea up to this day! But it was very clear that Andy had made a very convincing argument. So, Andy did communicate very well with her sister and understood what she needed and what she wanted to some degree.
As a result, Emmi became Andy’s translator because no one could understand her like Emmi could. And to be honest with you, there was only one time, ever, when Emmi just refused to translate. She just kind of had it.
And when I tried to ask her what her sister needed or wanted, she was like, “I don’t know.”
Yeah, we saw a little glimpse of a teenager she would become one day. But it was only that one tiny rebellion. The rest of the time, she seemed willing to help us out. But it was becoming an increasing challenge.
The thing that freaked us out the most was that we had absolute clarity from Andy a couple of times. I remember one time we went to Walmart, there was really no other place to shop in this tiny little town in Michigan, and she was in the cart, and she suddenly said, “Mom… Mommy… Mama…”
I stopped, and I said, “Yes, baby? What do you want? What do you need?”
Andy looked away. She was done. She had said what she needed to say and was done.
Another time when we were sitting in the living room, and all of a sudden, she started counting, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”
We whipped our heads around, and we asked her to do it again. She smiled and ignored the hell out of us.
We knew that we had a problem because Emmi was formulating complete sentences. Her speech was very clear, but Andy wasn’t even getting close. We spoke with our pediatrician, who told us to go through the school system. They do testing to get the kids started and speech therapy and so on, and so on.
So, we went through the process of getting the first appointment. It took forever to get it. Forever! It took multiple calls. It took calling over and over again to request the appointment. We finally got it. My husband had to re-arrange his schedule that day to take her. I couldn’t do it because I was teaching classes. And so, he took her to be tested. It was three days he had to take her in, and then nothing happened. And we called, and called, and called, and called, and called, and nothing happened. They wouldn’t return our calls. My husband showed up at the place. They told him the evaluation was being looked at, and there was nothing we could except be patient.
We tried to be patient, but the only thing that we found out was that we had aged out of the system. It had taken the school system so long to call us back that we had aged out of the system. Andy was too old now because, within a few months, she was going to be attending preschool. We were furious, and we finally found a speech therapist in the next town, which was about forty minutes away. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal except that it snows in the winter. You get these blizzards. It can be quite dangerous to travel. There’s a lot of icy conditions, and so on, and so on. She needed to see the speech therapist at least twice a week, but we could only manage to do it once a week.
So, we had to find another solution, and at this point, a new speech therapist moved into our town. We were absolutely thrilled. But the problem with limited choices is, just because you have a speech therapist in town doesn’t mean that they’re a good speech therapist. This lady had a ginormous chip on her shoulder. She decided very early on that Andy was autistic.
Now, Andy’s never had a problem making eye contact. Andy never had a problem hugging and loving somebody. Although now that she’s a teenager, she has so much attitude. She’s never been a kissy person like her sister, but I’m not a kissy person. She played a lot with other kids and had a great time! She is an interesting introvert. She has always preferred to be on her own, and she recharges her battery for a long time, but when she’s with people, she could just really be out there. She can be a lot of fun!
So, I told this therapist that my child was not autistic, and she insisted that I was blind. I told her, “Listen. You don’t even have the qualifications to make that diagnosis that my child is autistic.”
I mean, did she really think that I hadn’t looked into this?
And she told me, I still remember this day, I’ve never come so close to the possibility of committing murder as I did this day. She tells me that my child’s autistic and that I don’t want to accept it makes me a terrible mother. She said this into my face, looking into my eyes. I was so pissed!
I told her, “Listen, lady. You have a one-year Master’s Degree from one of the worst universities in Michigan. I have a Ph.D. in public health from one of the best universities in the United States. I think I know how to conduct research, and I strongly believe that you have no idea what the hell it is that you’re talking about.”
Needless to say, I was invited never to return. What a shocker, right?
So, I went home to my husband, and I explained what happened between tears and furious condemnation of this woman. My husband said one of those things that makes me love him, which is, “You’re the best mother I know, and if you don’t believe that our child is autistic, our child is not autistic.”
Thankfully for us, one of the hospital nurses had heard my conversation with this speech therapist. The nurse informed us that the other town’s speech therapist would be doing speech therapy during the weekends at the hospital in our town. They got us in with her.
We started working with the new speech therapist. And let me tell you, we owe this woman a lot. Not only because she really listened to us, our concerns, but she also encouraged us to keep journals about Andy’s development. She gave us therapies to do with Andy at home. So, the therapist was working with her, I was working with her, and our nanny was working with her. Andy had a lot of individualized attention.
In the meantime, even before this lousy speech therapist had said I was a bad mother that my child was autistic, we had already scheduled a special appointment with the children’s hospital in Michigan. It was about four hours away from our home. So, we had this specialist appointment to look at the development of both of the girls. The hospital’s developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, and child psychiatrist assured us that what we were dealing with was the speech delay because they had been preemies.
Yes, Emmi was blessed with a bit of luck, and she didn’t have that speech delay, but the speech delay that Andy had was pervasive among preemies. No, she was not autistic. I had been right in trusting my instincts. So, they sent us back home to keep working with the speech therapist. They advised us to be consistent and to maintain the journals that we had. When we talked to the pediatricians and the specialists, and the speech therapist, we could see how Andy was doing and how she was progressing.
They also told us something we had been told in the NICU, and that was that Andy probably had ADHD. So this was our second shot over the bow. We knew this was coming. We kind of took it with a grain of salt. We didn’t think it was a big deal. We really didn’t think it was a big deal. We thought there’s plenty of people out there who are incredibly successful, leading normal lives who have ADHD (as it turns out, including my husband). So, we didn’t worry about that. We were not concerned.
But we did continue to be concerned about her speech. Even though it did evolve, it did improve. I have to be honest with you; she still has a little bit of a lisp. The speech therapist helped us tremendously; Andy developed the ability to communicate with others relatively well. In the end, it was singing lessons as children and tweens that really helped her speech develop and made it easy for us to understand her. She still says some things incorrectly, like instead of “thirsty,” she says, “pirsty.” And instead of “spaghetti,” she says, “paghetti.” No “S.”
But I honestly don’t think that it is because she hasn’t developed the ability to make these sounds. It’s because they’ve kind of stuck with her, and they’re kind of part of her personality.
How do you enjoy the toddler years when you may not find the system is set-up to support you with challenges you might be facing?
Well, I’m going to give you the three things that helped me:
One, love your child. I know you’re probably thinking, “Well, I already do that. That’s not particularly helpful.”
But it is. Love your child. Your child will feel your love and your confidence in them. And won’t feel “abnormal,” whatever abnormal is or however society defines abnormality. Because as long as you don’t act like your child is weird, your child will not feel weird.
We never treated Andy differently. We treated her the same way we treated her sister. It didn’t mean that we didn’t make accommodations. We understood she had different challenges, but we always made every effort to make her feel no different. So that girl never lacked confidence. She knew she was loved. She knew she was cared for and knew whatever was out there that she was having a problem with; we would help her fix it or meet the challenge if it couldn’t be fixed.
Two, remember not to compare your child to others. And let me tell you, as a mother of twins, my God, that can be difficult to do, especially when you have a social butterfly and an introvert. They’re going to be significantly different anyhow despite any other challenges, and people are going to be pointing those differences out to you all of the time. I can’t tell you how many times I got pissed off with somebody who would say to me, “Oh, Emmi is such a perfect child.”
No, she’s not! She has never been! She’s always been a normal child. She smiles, and she’s charming, and she gets away with murder. Still, she’s always been a troublemaker, just like her sister—just in a completely different way.
Did having Emmi at the same time that I have Andy allowed me to see that Andy had a developmental delay and speech? Yeah, it did. But that doesn’t mean that I compare them, and it doesn’t mean that I said to one child, “Well, your sister can do it. Why can’t you?” or “Your sister does it better than you.” Or worse yet, “Why can’t you be like your sister?”
I’ve never said that up until, I think, about three months ago because Andy always complains, “I’m always in trouble!” That’s because she’s a troublemaker extraordinaire, and her sister likes to avoid trouble.
I went into their bedrooms, and Andy’s was pristine. Everything was put away. She does tend to be on the neat side. And I walked into her sister’s, and it looked like a hurricane just landed! This is very common. My Emmi is messy as all it can be. I said, “Hey, Andy. I’m going to say something that’s going to make your day.”
I was just kidding, turned around, and I said to Emmi, “Why can’t you be like your sister and keep your room clean?”
I wished you could’ve been there. Both girls were laughing so hard. They were snorting! But it was a joke, and it was meant to be a joke, and it was taken as a joke. I don’t compare them because they’re not the same person. They don’t have the same personalities. They don’t have the same life approaches, and they don’t get in trouble the same way either.
And finally, number three, don’t believe anyone that asks you to give up hope in your child. Don’t do it. There’s always somebody with a degree out there who’s going to tell you that you should give up or that they know better than you. Trust yourself. And if you don’t trust yourself, err on the side of positivity. Believe that your child’s going to be okay. Believe that whatever challenge they have, you can meet it head-on together as a mother and child because the bottom line is that you can. You can. You just have to be willing to make changes, look for resources, and find a balance between treating your child as you would treat any of your other children and making appropriate accommodations.
That’s it. That is it. Because the bottom line is I go back to number one, love your child. That’s what your child’s going to need the most, your love.
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