Milestones are a funny thing, especially when you have a child with autism. My daughter’s first two syllable word was “seven.” She said that before she called me mama. Her first three syllable word? “Eleven.”
It should come as no surprise that I’ve thrown most of the typical child development milestones out the window. Or at least, I’ve tried to. The advice parents of children with autism or other conditions often receive is to compare your child to themselves and not other children or lists of milestones. This advice helps me see my own child’s progress, but of course, I can’t entirely ignore how her peers are developing. It can be very difficult seeing her next to typically developing children, especially in the realm of language.
My daughter’s language abilities are her most severe delay. About 7 months ago she had a developmental assessment as part of the process of enrolling her in the state early intervention program. In our state, these assessments assign an equivalent age to each child’s skills in a few areas, and a child qualifies for services if their equivalent developmental age in at least one key area is less than half of their chronological age. At the time of her assessment, she was 20 months old. Her language skills were that of a 4 month old. Our coordinator said it was possibly the most significant language delay she’d ever seen. I still remember listing to the voicemail over the car speakers with my husband as we drove to visit relatives for Christmas. We sat in silence at first, and then I voiced how scared I was for our daughter. My husband tried to reassure me, but was plainly scared as well.
Today she is talking some. It’s unclear how much credit goes to therapy and how much to just the passage of time, but I really believe the therapy has helped a lot. Her speech is coming along at a faster rate than anyone expected, and she’s closing the gap but still has a fair amount of catching up to do. Once she started talking, she absorbed new labels with hyper-speed. For concrete concepts, like the names of objects, she only needs to be told once or maybe twice and she’s got it. She learned the alphabet (not the song, but how to identify the symbols for every letter) in about an hour, and she quickly learned to count to 10 and then 20. More abstract or social concepts, like requesting, or saying “hi” and “bye,” or communicating feelings are more difficult. She has a few requests but we’re still working on the rest.
About 2 weeks ago we hit what is for me her biggest milestone to date, and I didn’t even see it coming. One day after speech therapy I was kissing her face, as I often do, and it seemed like she puckered up and kissed back. Surprised, I asked her to kiss me again. Unmistakably, she puckered her lips and planted a big kiss on my lips, complete with a “muah” sound. Since then, she has given kisses upon request to daddy, grandparents, an uncle, and even some of her therapists. She doesn’t always kiss when asked, just if she wants to, and she does sometimes give kisses unprompted. I checked with all of her therapists, and no one taught this to her. She just picked up on kissing as a form of showing affection all on her own. I’ve honestly never been prouder of her.