What happens when a teacher has a child with developmental difficulties? Honestly, when that happened, the only thought in my mind was: THIS IS NOT HAPPENING TO ME, THIS IS SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE.
As a teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, I was able to acquire a lot of knowledge when it comes to difficulties in learning and development, or as everyone calls it special needs. I will not use the term special needs since it’s outdated, and researches agree that every child has its own special needs, regardless of the difficulties or disabilities. Despite all that, I was completely unprepared for what was coming, because, for the first time, I had to observe the situation from the inside, not just as an outsider.
What could possibly go wrong?
I was midway finishing my Master’s degree in Education along with a whole additional semester in English Teaching Methodology. Everything was going great – I already had a B.Ed, work experience, a beautiful family, my own apartment, and I was working towards publishing a research paper even before finishing my master’s thesis. What could possibly go wrong? Well, something has gone wrong, since no one can have it all, especially if you are still in your late twenties.
If this ever happens to any of my fellow teachers – be positive. Try to be happy and observe the situation from another perspective – you are an educated teacher with a lot of practical and theoretical knowledge when it comes to development, inclusion, and methodology. Your child lives with you, and you can develop a daily schedule according to the needs of your child and follow the proximal zone of development. Every step you take together can be used to decrease the developmental gap!
Of course, it’s easier said than done. Seeing your child having problems hurts immensely. A lot of knowledge can be a burden as well – you know how hard it is for a child to develop with an SPD, how much time will it take, and finally – you know that there is a chance that signs of autism may appear soon after the age of two.
What do you do then?
What do you do then? What do you do when a doctor you are sent to gives you basic parenting advice such as ”play with your child” or ”don’t allow screen time”? What do you do if your child is a picky eater, and your therapist says ”force-feed your child” or ”don’t feed him all day, and he’ll want to touch food by himself when he’s really hungry”? Seriously, what do you do?
The first thing I did was to crush and break silently for months thinking ”he just turned 14 months, there’s plenty of time for him to learn to answer to his own name”. Don’t do that – share the burden with your partner and deal with it together. Don’t wait. Don’t overthink. Just share your doubts and start monitoring your child together.
The months passed, and we came to the 18th-month check-up, where I requested to get an appointment with a developmental specialist. The doctor was shocked, but she took everything seriously – she listened and tried to give us constructive advice.
After some time, we turned our house into a small sensory playground – textures, toys, a small Montessori shelf, a busy board – all the didactical tools we could use to help him develop. The doctor was not so useful, as she only said ”use what you have.” If you are a parent, and you are reading this – just use the internet. Ask the teacher. Ask another doctor. See what kind of toys and play might be good for your child and stick with it. I sincerely hope you will have a better therapist than we do. Our son also spends time in the sensory room at the hospital, and that’s the only reason why we still go to the regular check-ups. You may wonder, did any of this help? If yes, what helped?
Well, I have to be completely frank with you – IT DIDN’T HELP MUCH. At first. After some time, small signs of improvement started to show. You can’t rush development, and you can’t decide when is your child going to master a certain skill.
First, we finally succeeded in teaching him how to answer to his name. After some time, our son started chewing food he hated – such as pizza or big pieces of vegetable tortilla. We started playing a tickling game with him, and he now starts to laugh as soon as we say that we will tickle him. He learned to throw back the ball, and yesterday he played with a wooden car and slides – all by himself. His father taught him all this. Not the therapist, not me, the educated teacher, but his father.
All these things may sound meaningless, but they mean a lot. Any kind of communication, joint play with parents, or a even non-verbal exchange means a lot. Every look and smile pointed in your direction means a lot.
The conclusion is pretty simple – all the didactical tools and all the therapies in the world won’t help if the time is not right. Slower development might not mean that your child will not develop at all – it just means that he or she is not ready yet. You will break many times – just know that that’s all right – you are not alone.
It took 6 months longer for our son to learn his name – but now he knows it. It may take years to potty train – but he will master that skill as well. Don’t force educational toys on your child – organize your environment so that they are always at hand. Spend 5 to 10 minutes in a guided play. Be patient and don’t have high expectations. Floortime sessions and using social-emotional development as a tool to develop cognitively was the right step for us. You don’t have to spend every single second with your child – don’t blame yourself for doing other things.
There is no magic potion that will fix all your problems. You need to educate yourself as much as you can, collaborate with doctors (even though you may not like them), but first of all, you need to detect the issues your child currently has to start working on them. Don’t compare your child – what works for some families, may not work for you. If you have anything to add or state, please write in the comments. 🙂