Mom Shares

Overcoming Developmental Delays: Lessons in Engaged Parenting!


I’m Mayuri, a work-from-home Public Relations Consultant living in Delhi with my loving husband and our delightful three-year-old son, Som. Originally from Kolkata, we’ve called Delhi home for the past 11 years. Today, I feel compelled to share a deeply personal journey about my son’s development, particularly his speech, which has been quite a challenging experience for our family.

There are many notable incidents I could share regarding my experiences with Som, but one that stands out vividly is related to the delay in his speech development. Typically, by 15 to 18 months, children start uttering basic words, but our case was different. Since both my husband and I were working, albeit I worked from home, we had hired a nanny to assist with childcare. However, our direct interaction and engagement with Som remained minimal.

Unlike most toddlers who start communicating through simple words like “mama,” “papa,” “I fell down,” etc., Som didn’t speak any words initially. He would merely point at things, lacking verbal expression. We tried numerous strategies – purchasing books, toys, you name it – I left no stone unturned in providing him with educational playthings. But what we failed to give him was the crucial element of consistent interaction and engagement that children need for healthy development.

I had come across a lot of information about how lack of adequate parental interaction due to work commitments could potentially contribute to conditions like autism. Determined to prevent this, I took Som for an evaluation by doctors specializing in brain and developmental issues in children. There, we received the diagnosis that Som had very mild autism, which could explain his speech delay.

Looking back, there were some incidents that seemed indicative of autism tendencies, but at the time, we overlooked or didn’t pay enough attention to them. For example, he would repeatedly spin a tyre against the wall, bumping his head in the process – behaviors that are common in autism cases but were infrequent enough in Som’s case for us to brush them off initially.

After the diagnosis, we started Som on therapies recommended by the doctors – behavior therapy and occupational therapy – which he still continues to this day. The doctor advised us that modern parents often overthink and become overly restrictive about what to feed or not feed their children. In contrast, he suggested that earlier, children developed robust immunity naturally through unrestricted exposure and exploration. He recommended that we strive to connect Som more with nature and facilitate his learning through practical, hands-on activities aligned with his interests and inclinations.

Following this guidance, I involved Som in activities like taking him outdoors to collect flowers, leaves, and other natural items, which we would then stick in notebooks. Such tactile, exploratory tasks help improve not just behaviors but also conceptual understanding in children. Since I noticed Som’s keen interest in music, I provided him with a piano and a guitar, encouraging him to pursue that passion.

Unlike some parents who push academics rigidly, I consciously avoid forcing Som to “study, study, study” as the primary focus. Instead, I engage him in activities like stringing beads, solving puzzles, counting objects – tasks that build patience, cognitive skills and positive emotional engagement without relying excessively on screentime.

One of the key issues highlighted by Som’s therapist is that in contemporary times, children’s interaction with parents has diminished significantly. Even when parents are physically present at home, factors like work fatigue or disinclination can severely limit active engagement with their children. The therapist emphasized that this lack of adequate interaction can impede a child’s overall development, even for those without clinical conditions like autism.

To address this, the primary advice provided was to dedicate at least 2 hours every day solely and consciously for one-on-one interaction with your child. This dedicated time shouldn’t be focused on academics but rather on having open-ended discussions, asking about their day, friends, interests, and activities. For pre-verbal children like Som was initially, the guidance is to keenly observe their behaviors, vocalize words and provide verbal labels for what they are attempting to communicate through sounds, gestures or actions. Additionally, provide them with multiple choices and options, allowing them to indicate their preference.

For a child like Som, who didn’t have a vocabulary of even 300-400 words in the beginning, I made consistent efforts to interact constantly – asking questions, putting words to the sounds and gestures he made, and presenting numerous options to choose from. This level of active involvement and interaction is pivotal, regardless of how much formal therapy is undertaken in parallel.

The therapist particularly stressed the importance of this interactive approach for parents of autistic children. While acknowledging that it is undoubtedly challenging, the therapist asserted that it need not be an impossible undertaking. There are some parents, especially fathers, who struggle to accept that their child may have developmental differences, dismissing any concerns by stating, “He’s normal, there’s no problem.” However, the therapist emphasized that making consistent efforts to engage and stimulate the child is crucial, whether the child is neurotypical or has developmental delays or disabilities.

We realized that there had been a significant gap from our side – we didn’t interact with and engage our child at the levels required for optimal development. Perhaps the nanny too didn’t provide sufficient interaction and stimulation, but we couldn’t place full blame on her either. The underlying issue was our own inadequacy in fulfilling our responsibilities as parents to be fully involved in caring for and nurturing our child’s overall growth.

The core message conveyed by the therapist was this: If you notice any developmental delays – pertaining to speech, motor skills, or concerning behavioral patterns like incessantly lining up toys in a particular way, walking while maintaining an inverted position, or doing somersaults before being able to walk properly – don’t wait for a formal diagnosis. Start increasing your interactive engagement with the child right away, even before any clinical evaluation or confirmation of a condition like autism.

Specifically for autistic children, the therapist highlighted the importance of building their practical life skills through guided involvement in simple household tasks. For example, have them assist with loading the washing machine, using clothesline clips, throwing trash in bins appropriately, cleaning up accidental messes, washing their own hands after using the bathroom, and brushing their teeth independently with some supervision. Facilitating their participation in such real-life scenarios aids in developing understanding and self-sufficiency.

The therapist also advised that clear communication, balanced with affection and consistent interaction through questioning, helps autistic children learn new words, concepts and socio-behavioral norms more effectively.

Travel and exposure to nature were also highlighted as highly advantageous for children on the autism spectrum. The therapist’s core philosophical emphasis was that every child is unique and special. Therefore, it is crucial to closely monitor each child, identify their specific interests, skills and inclinations, and thoughtfully nurture those areas while maintaining patience, lowering one’s own stress and anxiety levels as a parent/caregiver.

The overarching principle that was continually reinforced is this: Interact, interact, interact – whether your child is neurotypical or has developmental differences or disabilities. Facilitate their holistic development by enabling exploration and firsthand experiential learning. Ask them questions to expand their comprehension. Provide them with words and verbal labels to facilitate communication. Allow them to exercise agency by offering choices and respecting their preferences. And perhaps most importantly, immerse them in the calming, grounding influence of nature as much as possible.

I’ve been diligently implementing these strategies in my day-to-day engagement with Som. Although it is undoubtedly an ongoing journey that requires persistent effort, I can already discern encouraging progress in Som’s communication abilities and overall developmental milestones. With patience and these consistent approaches, I remain optimistic that his positive trajectory will continue over time.

In essence, the profound learning for me has been this: Our children, regardless of their abilities or challenges, require our wholehearted presence, unconditional love, and willingness to commit quality time and energy towards enabling their unique potentials to blossom. It is an integral part of the sacred duty of parenthood – a duty that carries lifelong rewards.

Note from Blog Owner:

Share your unforgettable parenting moments with us! Join the Mother’s Day contest by commenting on this Instagram post. Whether hilarious or heartwarming, we want to hear your unique parenting tales. Submit your entry by 25th May, 2024 for a chance to get featured and inspire fellow parents. Don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate the joys of parenthood!

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