When my twins turned 1 year old, they were not walking. One of my babies was crawling and beginning to pull up on furniture, but my other twin was very efficient at getting around by rolling, pivoting to get the correct angle she needed, and then rolling some more. My rolling baby was not showing any signs of scooting, army crawling or moving in any type of linear fashion. I thought her rolling/pivot technique was pretty inventive, but something deep down inside my mama gut was nagging me and saying something is not right. And then, at their 12 month well-child visit, the pediatrician mentioned wanting to see both babies walking by 15 months and the need for an evaluation if they are not there by 15 months. My mama gut was screaming, “There is no way Ilana is going to walk independently at 15 months!”
SO, in true Michelle fashion, I took the proactive approach and scheduled an evaluation on my own terms. I wasn’t going to wait another three months. I called the early intervention program, Help Me Grow, through the Ohio Department of Health right away. I felt kind of silly calling and even said, “I hope I’m wrong about even asking for an evaluation.” The person I spoke to was so reassuring and said a lot of calls they get are from moms who say the same thing. And so, I had an evaluation scheduled within the next few weeks.
The level of attention to detail and efficiency the Early Intervention groups we worked with through Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board have been unbelievably amazing. The team arriving at my door the day of the evaluation represented three different groups/agencies, but they worked together seamlessly. We met with a Help Me Grow Service Coordinator, Physical Therapist, and Early Childhood Developmental Specialist. They are experts in their respective fields and some of the warmest people I have ever met (which were perfect for my gaggle of girls who were incredibly shy and full of stranger-danger at the time). Bonus, Akron Children’s Hospital employs all the Service Coordinators in Summit County. They are part of the Social Work Department. Akron Children’s Hospital has a very special place in my heart, so I was really happy to learn they are involved because every employee truly lives the mission of never turning a child away and treating every child as if they are their own.
Upon stepping into my home, they explained the process would included evaluating both girls, then taking a few minutes to review the tests, discuss as a team, and provide the results to me and my husband right then and there. Since they were evaluating two babies, I imagine everything took a lot longer, but I loved knowing we would get instant results. I was feeling confident Miriam would be OK and Ilana would result in a delay in gross motor skills (my rolling baby).
The Physical Therapist brought a ton of toys to use for the test and the infusion of new toys to play with helped my girls warm up to the evaluators. The assessment looked like playtime, and at the end of all the “playing” we were informed both girls were delayed in two areas. Hearing this news was like getting slapped and punched in the face at the same time. BOTH girls?! TWO areas?! Since they classify as delayed, they were eligible to receive Help Me Grow home visits from their developmental specialists for free. We could also choose to go to a physical therapist’s office, but this option would involve insurance, an out-of-pocket expense, not to mention the logistics of getting two babies to an appointment while both my husband and I work outside of the home, and then figuring out how to entertain my oldest daughter. Another option was doing nothing. They told me and my husband we could decide what we wanted to do, and it took us all of three seconds to say yes to free services in our home to help our girls.
It would be a few weeks before the first home visit, and in the interim we experienced several stages of various emotions including grief, sadness, guilt, hope, and acceptance. I think it’s fairly typical for parents to process difficult information regarding their children with blame. Our default for anything bad in our children’s lives is to blame ourselves. It’s easy to blame yourself, even if it has NOTHING to do with you as a parent.
Here’s a snapshot of all the different thoughts and emotions my husband and I experienced together during this time period. We did A LOT of talking while processing and waiting for our first Help Me Grow appointment. The conversations we had during these weeks are yet another reason why he’s my all-time favorite grown-up person and best friend.
My husband and I wondered if the delay had anything to do with Ilana’s harrowing delivery (she was a vaginal breech delivery), but Miriam had a textbook delivery just 6 minutes before Ilana and both girls had hip ultrasounds as newborns (standard procedure for multiples) and checked out completely fine.
Maybe it’s because Ilana was born not breathing and blue? It was the scariest moment of our lives and perhaps started the chain reaction for this to happen? Could there be residual issues from the lack of oxygen during her delivery? But she was given some oxygen and pinked up and starting crying right away. We asked the pediatrician tons of questions at every appointment about any developmental concerns connected to her lack of oxygen, and we were repeatedly assured there was no reason for concern.
Is Ilana not interested in crawling because we cater to her too much? We bring her toys; we pick her up and move her to the stuff she wants. Maybe she’s not crawling because she doesn’t need to? Do we hold and carry our girls too much and they’re just used to not working hard to be mobile on their own? This is a double-edged argument because, as the mother of three small children under the age of three, I was initially worried about not giving the girls enough attention, so these delays could be the result of managing this fear so well (by holding them all the time) I have debilitated them! <<sigh>>
There is no obvious reason the girls were delayed, but we finally came to the conclusion it is what it is, and we’re addressing it the best way we can. We were excited and chomping at the bit to get started!
The Help Me Grow team scheduled visits dependent on what worked best for our family. They could visit kids in any setting (with the nanny, in a daycare, etc.), but my husband or I wanted to be home so we could see what they did with the girls first-hand and get tips from them on how to help with their progress. The helpful information they provided was so simple and common sense, but it was something I never would have thought about. Babies need a lot of tummy strength to coordinate movement, so there were a lot of techniques (more like playtime than exercise time) to implement throughout the day. Even changing a diaper became an opportunity to practice coordination. The Physical Therapist was phenomenal at noticing where the girls could use extra help and her tips made a world of difference. The girls locked their knees a lot, so we did bicycles with them at every opportunity and it was so much fun my very capable and mobile 3 year old wanted to do them too (so we did)!
The Developmental Specialist was extremely helpful when thinking about ways to get the girls to learn new things and increase their communication skills. The smallest thing like giving their elbow a gentle push to help them scoop yogurt with a spoon (instead of grabbing their hands and trying to force the scooping motion) was amazing and instantly helpful. We saw improvement and new attempts at learning new skills every week and it was SUPER exciting.
The Help Me Grow Service Coordinator assigned to our family was always available and willing to listen to any concern we had. I even called her cell phone one morning during a weekend with an urgent situation and she immediately took action!
Within five months, my rolling girl became a crawler and then a proficient walker! They were reevaluated and both girls fell within range for their developmental milestones. The progress they have made has been unbelievable.
I am so glad we called Help Me Grow, even though it was definitely hard to reconcile the feelings of guilt and blame we experienced as parents. Ignoring it was not an option in our minds. Also, nothing beats the thrill of seeing the sheer pride and excitement on my girls’ faces when they would do something for the first time. The sense of joy and accomplishment in their eyes was the best gift ever.