As I watch my now 8 year old daughter hop down from the bottom step of the school bus and run to meet me across the street, it’s hard to remember that there was once a time that I was concerned about her motor development.
Grace didn’t walk until she was almost 18 months old. She had low muscle tone and frequently seemed unmotivated to engage in or explore her environment. As a brand new parent, I was unsure of my own instinct to be concerned. All of the parenting magazines and books and even our own pediatrician assured me that all kids develop at different rates and that there is a large range of ‘typical’. Yet, I undeniably, had a nagging concern that peppered my daily interactions with my daughter.
I knew that she would eventually walk. At this point, she was able to do so with very little support and seemed to need a hand there only for comfort. In fact, even after she walked independently, she did so only when holding on tightly to her own shirt for ‘support’! My concern lay more in the idea that her motor delays were affecting the way she interacted with the world. She was a wimp! She would cower next to her fellow boisterous and active 18 month olds. As her playmates raced to devour a newly presented toy or experience, Grace lagged behind and waited for me to assist her towards the excitement. Grace seemed intimidated and overwhelmed by her playmates’ eagerness to play with her and would visibly shield herself from their attempts to enter her space. I look back and realize that this important stage of her life was spent guarding her from events that might overwhelm her rather than encouraging her to engage fully in them.
During this time, I happened to have a very good friend who was an Early Intervention Physical Therapist. I remember having a conversation with her about the possibility of getting Grace evaluated for EI services. My friend, being a good and sensitive friend, was careful to be very diplomatic about it and not allow any judgment into the conversation. She read the situation well and knew that I was concerned yet hesitant to acknowledge that there was something ‘wrong’ with my child. After all, the experts (including our pediatrician) told us not to be concerned! I remember not wanting to seem like a worried ninny of a first time parent. Well, shamefully, my concern about other people’s opinions about my parenting skills and about my child, prevented me from taking a step that could’ve made this time less worry ridden and most certainly, would’ve allowed Grace to experience her world more fully.
Grace started walking about a month after this conversation with my friend. She slowly started to gain confidence and to investigate her world independently. She was still not what I would consider a ‘go-getter’ but she was gaining some ground! She could be in the same play space with her friends and not get so overwhelmed that she would need to leave. She would join her friends in play and would seek out new situations. However, she continued to be a sensitive child and if left to her own druthers, would prefer to observe rather than engage. This is certainly simply part of the personality that she came with but I can’t help but wonder if having EI services could’ve changed that at all and will always regret my hesitance to make that phone call.
Now I watch Grace chase the ball on the soccer field and shuffle her bundled up self around the ice skating rink and know that her motor development is just fine. I can’t help but wonder though, if way back then when these skills were forming and her opinion of her ability to move in space and use her body, I somehow let her down by not pursuing appropriate interventions. I wonder if she had received PT or OT back then, if she would be more assertive when the soccer ball comes her way rather than letting someone else score the goal. I wonder if her instinct wouldn’t be to cling to the boards rather than skating freely in the center of the rink with her friends. All of this wondering could’ve been prevented with one simple phone call – and by taking the subtle advice of my very good friend!
Kate Brennan M. Ed.