This page is to provide you with links to professional sites which can help empower you with knowledge and access to helping your child. I am not a professional in this area so I cannot give professional advice, but I am always willing to share the strategies which worked for us.
Here is our story…
BB was born in 2010
An active child, BB was an explorer from the moment he could focus his eyes on any object. He started to walk two weeks before his first birthday. From that moment he was non-stop. Climbing, moving from place to place. Fearless. So I wasn’t too concerned when he wasn’t meeting his speech milestones. I knew that boys are often slower at talking than girls, and active children are often slower too. BB’s perception and comprehension was excellent and he was super smart.
As his second birthday drew closer though my instincts were starting to tingle a bit louder, I was comparing my child to my friends, I was feeling uneasy, concerned and I started considering options. It was around BB’s birthday that I found an article on speech delay, and the author said ‘just get your child assessed to eliminate the possibility of an issue’. This resonated with me.
BB’s journey has been inspiring and so rewarding. At the same time it has been hard, heartbreaking and at times, lonely. However I have wonderful friends and family who have provided brilliant support and I have been lucky enough to have access to professional services which were amazing.
Throughout this journey, I felt at times so isolated. At first, none of my friends in my immediate circle had a child with this circumstance, and the lack of understanding resulted in comments being made that were not intended to freshen the wound my heart was already trying to mend. But they did.
I could see how my BB was comparing himself to others and how this affected his confidence. I felt shattered every single time. When BB shut down from his therapy because he was so tired and frustrated, my heart broke. The joy I felt when BB had success was immeasurable, and seeing the way his smile would radiate through his whole face from pride, is captured in my mind forever.
When BB had a milestone, very few of my friends understood the importance of it because milestones for a speech delay child are just a normal developmental phase for a different child. Speech development is complex.
Playing with Colour
BB’s third birthday party was such a significant day. It was the first year he could blow out his birthday candles. We had practiced and worked hard on this for weeks and BB was so excited. It was such a glorious day. Not many friends understood this though. My favourite photo is of BB with his Sandcastle Cake with the biggest, happiest, most relaxed smile on his little face. Because he knew how special that day was.
While BB’s speech was improving dramatically, he started to develop anxiety and a stutter. It is such a challenging time when you are busy celebrating amazing progress in one direction, working hard at keeping your child’s confidence levels up, only to have new challenges come forward. We kept going though. A new Speech Therapist, seeing a Psychologist. Steady progress continued to be made in all areas and we made sure that we always celebrated BB’s successes and achievements in grand style.
BB worked extremely hard, for such a little boy. People would commend me on my effort. I would say no, that is what a mother does, isn’t it? Our BB worked so hard on his speech. It was truly inspirational. We got to see our boy develop confidence and become more resilient. With new words we got to see his amazing personality shine through. We got to know his wicked sense of humour. BB started to sing, to play music. Through the progress BB made, we got to finally learn more about our most beautiful boy.
Now, a few years on those who do not know our past would not have a clue there has been anything like this going on. BB is confident, will talk to anyone, anywhere. He is so confident that at times I forget that the anxiety never fully leaves. I need to be careful when there is some sort of change. BB is resistant to some new things and needs a little more support than FB. If he is tired, ill or stressed out the stutter comes back mildly. Other than that our boy is a glorious success story and we are so thankful for the friendship and support of everyone who was part of this journey.
If your instincts are tingling about your precious child, please do not ignore them – just do something to eliminate the possibility. Please.
Stress is triggered by a situation; it is your body’s response. Once the stressful situation is over, the stress passes and your body goes back to normal functioning.
Anxiety is more than that because anxious feelings don’t subside. Anxiety is caused by a range of factors. Most people experience anxiety in some form or other as a normal part of life. Usually after a time is subsides. For some though, it gets stuck and just builds up. This is when it starts to interfere with life and it can become quite debilitating.
With anxiety, a person’s ability to cope with normal day to day circumstances is compromised and feelings and emotions are difficult to control. I think a lot of people use the phrase ‘I’m stressed and anxious’ a lot to describe how they are feeling in a particular moment. That’s fine, it’s all relative. I guess I’m asking people to understand that anxiety as a disorder is more.
Anxiety is caused by a few factors, commonly it’s the family/genetic link. It is the most common mental health condition in Australia and on average one in four people will experience anxiety in their lifetime (ref: Beyond Blue). For children it is estimated that between 8-22% will experience anxiety more intensely and more often than other children (Briesch, A.M., Hagermoser-Sanetti, L.M., & Briesch, J.M. 2010).
As an adult we at least have the skills and knowledge to start to understand and manage it. To seek help. To be able to say ‘hey, this is what’s going on’.
Imagine being a child. One day this anxiety appears. It may have been developing over some time, but in such small increments it really wasn’t noticeable. A small child who is still learning about self regulation and what emotions and feelings are all about. A child for whom these things are still relatively unknown. They don’t know what the sensations are really all about and they certainly don’t have the understanding of words to be able to tell someone.
A child with speech problems also has the issue of not being able to verbalise.
BB was a happy, active and social baby. Even when he knew he wasn’t able to communicate like his friends he took it in his stride.
Just before he turned three he suddenly started behaving differently. He was very difficult, very argumentative, and very defiant. I was being a lot more disciplinarian and I became extremely stressed. I felt instinctively that something was wrong and I felt I was failing BB by not being responsive enough. We had a particularly harrowing experience with separation anxiety – not even close to the normal kind. We also had a disastrous introduction to gymnastics. I was devastated that my boy was suffering like this. So after speaking to some specialists I had my OT friend assess him. She identified an audio-sensitivity. Okay, now we know. As soon as I started managing this with BB he was a changed boy. Overnight he went back to being his normal beautiful self. He felt some control back, he felt understood and noticed.
A few months later I realised we had another issue as BB’s language was now age appropriate and he was a little chatter box at home. However in social situations he was mute. The specialists we worked with and I agreed he appeared to have Selective Mutism. Okay, let’s sort that. Off we went to the Psychologist and we discussed strategies. Gradually BB started to feel more relaxed and we saw great improvement. One day he just started talking. It still wasn’t ‘normal’but there is constant improvement which is important. Now, there is not even the slightest hint that this was what he went through. Socially confident, our boy will talk to anyone, anywhere.
Then we realised this anxiety was more than the audio and mutism. There was some social anxiety too.
What did it all mean? It meant I needed to be sensitive to situations, but find the balance between appropriate support and helicopter parenting. As a result, I worried about most things. More than I should? – Probably. Definitely more than others who didn’t have those circumstances with their children. But we made it through.
It is hard for a lot of people around us to believe BB has a history with anxiety. After all, when they turn up at the doorstep he will come up and start talking nonstop, telling them about his latest interest – light bulbs, swimming pool pumps, the latest rock in his collection. Generally though, the change has been so incredible that people who do know his history comment ‘oh my goodness, this is a new child!’, ‘Wow, he spoke to me – and a whole conversation too!’ ‘Gee he just looks so relaxed’. I think that one is my favourite.
In working with BB to address an issue, I know when I’m on the mark because I show him a book or talk about something and he instantly engages. He wants to know more; he wants a book read three or four times before I say, ‘let’s look at something else’. Then I try to engage him to talk about his feelings, and he shuts down. ‘Stop it mummy’. He says. I hold him, kiss his blond head, silent tears roll down my cheeks as I remind him that he is so precious to me, that I love and adore and cherish him and my job is to love him, keep him safe, and to be here to help him work through anything that upsets him.
My message here is this. Kids need to learn coping skills and resilience – for sure. What there also needs to be is more empathy, and rather than instantly dismissing a situation as ‘a kids phase’ consider it an opportunity to help the child learn skills that will get them through life. Trust your instincts and if you feel something isn’t quite right just ask the question. Take the time to ‘eliminate the possibility’ or seek an alternative way of addressing an issue.
Here are some of the strategies we have used that have helped us through difficult times.
Mummy love star: When BB was smaller and developed ‘normal’ separation anxiety I made this star. (I know the name is not original but I was in a rush and it was all I could come up with. Then it stuck). It is soft and I have a safety pin on it to attach to his shirts. It is filled with all of mummy’s love, hugs and kisses, so when he misses me at day-care he can squeeze it and know I am thinking about him and sending him hugs, love and kisses. This worked well. FB had one too. You can see in the picture how well-loved it is.
Aromatherapy massage blend: I dabble in aromatherapy so I was able to create my own blend for BB. Before going to day-care or playgroup we would sit and I would massage his arms and legs with this lotion. The massage is relaxing, creates connection but also changes the information pathways internally. For BB with his audio sensitivity, this helped change the intensity of sensation so he could cope better in a noisy environment. The oils I chose were for anxiety, relaxation and letting go.
Cognitive behaviour approach: Before going into a situation, during and after we talk about what happened. How it felt, what we could do next time. CBT is proving very successful for children.
In dealing with a situation we would talk about how he was physically feeling. BB had spoken to me one night about how it feels like a big wave in his tummy. This is an advanced concept for a child his age, and his therapist and I were a little gobsmacked but we worked with it. We named the wave Mr Wavy. We used this to work out how he was feeling, to help BB acknowledge and therefore understand his feelings and emotions.
In a particular situation the language used goes something like this. ‘This needs to happen so you need to figure out a way that will help you do this. I am here to help, we can do this together. Let’s look at our options’. In having this conversation there is a lot of strong physical contact. I fully embrace BB in a tight, meaningful way and make sure there is a lot of eye contact when appropriate.
I love books. I go to books whenever I need help. You can never have too many books I say!
I developed a couple of social stories to help BB with his audio sensitivity. These were brilliant and BB just loved them. He wanted them read over and over, he would read them himself, and he would carry them around. Social Stories are traditionally used for Autism however I cannot emphasise strongly enough what a valuable resource they are for any child.
When My Worries Get Too Big by Kari Dunn Buron: This book I felt was a bit old for BB but in desperation one night I got it out and just used age appropriate language. He loved it. He really associated with the rating scale and the facial expressions.
Don’t Panic, Annika! By Juliet Clare Bell and Jennifer E. Morris: BB really loved this book too. He actively engaged in discussion about Annika and how she was feeling, and what was happening. He liked it read several times and then he would have it in bed with him.
My Many Coloured Days by Dr. Seuss: I love this book. BB did too, but he didn’t want it read as much as the others. It describes different coloured days. The colours are associated with mood. I find it a lovely way to help young children start learning about emotion.
Here are some other useful links: