Before Little Bear arrived in our lives, we knew that he had a diagnosis of Developmental Delay. Indubitably the delay was brought about by years of neglect and under-stimulation, but I don’t want to dwell on blame, rather on the consequences. So throughout this post you might think “but that’s trauma or that’s neglect”. Yes, it probably is, but they have worked together to cause Developmental Delay and that is what we are tackling.
Developmental Delay meant that when we met 3 and a half year old Little Bear, he was going everywhere with reigns on, whilst his peers could be trusted to hold hands or walk beside their parents.
Developmental Delay meant Little Bear sat in a high chair for his meals and wore a nappy.
Developmental Delay meant Little Bear couldn’t understand everything we said and could only put a couple of words together to express himself, whilst his peers were mostly articulate and able to talk the hind legs off a donkey.
Developmental Delay meant he didn’t know his colours and he couldn’t count to three in the right order. Developmental Delay meant he didn’t really know how to play with toys. Developmental Delay meant he still had a dummy, blankie and a bottle at bedtime.
I’d love to blame Developmental Delay for this one but there is no getting away from it being pure neglect: Little Bear hadn’t experienced many things and didn’t know what basic things were e.g. a cow (he said “horse”) or a train (“bus”). He thought every vehicle was a “digger” and didn’t seem aware of “please” or “thank you”.
Developmental Delay meant the behaviours of a much younger child and a delay of more than 2 years when first assessed at pre-school.
Paradoxically, Developmental Delay has given us a gift. It has allowed us the privilege of witnessing Little Bear meet milestones we thought would have been long gone. Developmental Delay laid down the gauntlet of challenge to us and we have had the honour of helping Little Bear to answer. We have had the honour of seeing him leave behind the reigns, high chair, push chair, nappies, bottle. We have had the honour of seeing him blossom into a mostly (!) well-behaved 4 year old who can understand much more of what we say and is beginning to talk the hind legs off a donkey himself (even if we can’t decipher all of it). We’ve had the honour of hearing a stranger comment “what a polite boy” (oh how we laughed!). We have had the honour of seeing his play develop from wandering and fiddling to sensory play to full-on-dressed-up-pretending-to-be-somebody-else imaginative play. We’ve had the honour of teaching him his colours and developing his world knowledge. I knew he had progressed when I recently said “bug” and he said “no Mama, it’s a ladybird”.
However, Developmental Delay means he is still quite far behind where he should be for his age. Developmental Delay means we are worried about him starting school in September. Developmental Delay means we are finding it hard to imagine a time when he can actually count in the right order, let alone tackle numeracy lessons. Developmental Delay means that I struggled to respond appropriately when I shared my school concerns with another parent and she said “well, can he write his name? That’s the only thing he really needs to be able to do”. I had to stop myself from saying “no, of course he can’t write his f*****g name and that’s so far down the priority list that I haven’t even added it yet”.
Developmental Delay means that life is harder for Little Bear than it should be. Developmental Delay means he has to develop quicker than his peers without difficulties in order to have any hope of catching up. Developmental Delay means that I am in constant conflict between developing him and nurturing him to fill the big gaps in his earlier development e.g. he would prefer for me to feed him his meals and perhaps he needs this level of nurture for emotional growth but at the same time, he’s going to start school and nobody will feed him there.
Developmental Delay has shown us how quick and determined Little Bear is. Developmental Delay has shown us that with the right support he CAN do it. In the 5 months he has been at pre-school, he has already made more than an outstanding level of progress expected in one year.
Developmental Delay is a huge challenge but it is not insurmountable and every milestone met (big or small) is something to celebrate.