Three months ago, I welcomed a friendly, masked-up child speech therapist into my home.
As she sat down and showed a puzzle to my daughter, I realized in that moment she was one of the first persons outside of our immediate family in the last year to play with my child, who turned two this March.
The hour-long evaluation also reminded me that my family has been living through a deeply isolating pandemic — and that my daughter’s communication skills may have been impacted.
Earlier this year, The Chicago Tribune reported on this subject, interviewing Elizabeth Norton, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern University, about how she and her colleagues are studying the pandemic's effect on kids’ language development.
It's a critical topic and I'm happy to see experts taking a closer look. It's frightening to think how this pandemic may have a ripple effect on our youth.
For my daughter's initial evaluation, she saw two therapists, sent to our home by Child and Family Connections, a service offered through the Illinois Department of Human Services' Early Intervention Program.
Niccole evaluated her speech skills, and Katie evaluated her social and developmental skills on a broader scale.
A few days later, we learned our daughter qualified.
Fast forward three months to today, and I've gained some insight into how child speech and developmental therapy works. I've also enrolled my child in day care (where she is showing signs of great improvement).
I want to offer a huge thank you to Dana and the rest of the staff at Child Family Connections #22 for providing myself and my partner only words of encouragement and sound advice.
I also want to give thanks to her pediatrician for being proactive and not suggesting we take the "wait-and-see" approach.
And special thanks goes to our daughter's therapists, Katie and Niccole, for showing patience, kindness and compassion during each and every session. Our daughter looks forward to every visit, and as first-time parents, we have personally learned so much about child development and how to be the best teachers for our daughter.
Since starting weekly therapy, my daughter is now forming short sentences, and has learned dozens and dozens of words (and some sign language!) We still have a long way to go, but I have never been more proud of her.
Last weekend, my daughter was flipping through a picture book that Katie created to help her adjust to day care. In it, there are pictures of her teachers, the building, the playground, her therapists, and a picture of me and her dad picking her up after school.
"Play Katie! Niccole!" I heard my daughter say for the first time, with the biggest smile when she spotted two familiar faces in the book. I immediately smiled, repeated their names, and went in for a big hug to give her praise.
Seek out help
When I first learned my daughter qualified for services, I had mixed emotions — but mostly relief. It confirmed suspicions we raised during her two-year checkup.
While she was doing exceptional in many areas — like understanding verbal asks, pretend play, and pointing to objects we name — she struggled at times to form words and communicate some of her more basic needs.
Therapy has made a world of difference already.
Her pediatrician said it best when she told us our daughter was doing really well but that she would likely benefit from early intervention, and that she had seen an uptick in toddlers coming in for similar reasons due to the pandemic.
Research has long showed early intervention can do wonders for children and toddlers. Sometimes, however, the signs can be easy to miss, especially for first-time parents.
So if you feel your child may be struggling, know you are not alone. Seek out help, and never feel ashamed by the possibility your child may need a boost.
If you're curious about what early intervention can do for your child, I suggest calling your pediatrician and checking out the Illinois Department of Human Services’ website to locate the nearest office.
Thanks for reading.
Lauren Cross is the interim editor for The Southern. She can be reached at 618-351-5807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.