My Struggle With My Son’s Speech Delay


I am a quiet person who enjoys hushed tones and silence. When I had my son, I had to make a conscious effort to talk to him because my natural instinct is to observe, get the job done, and keep my mouth shut. As it turns out, it wasn’t too difficult to adjust to being more communicative and W made a lot of noise himself, so it wasn’t totally one-sided. I read to him, sang to him, and asked him all kinds of questions. Based on my intense and constant scrutiny, he seemed to be developing quite normally, until one day I had to admit that he wasn’t.

W had just turned two when we realized (read: admitted to ourselves) that he didn’t seem to be doing some of the things that his peers were. He was having lots of meltdowns over tiny little things. I know, I know, that’s just what two-year-olds do, but this seemed different.

He wasn’t speaking.

Like, hardly at all. He pointed to things, he grunted, and he got really upset and frustrated when his father and I had no idea what he was trying to communicate. He wasn’t playing with the other kids in daycare. He would more often than not sit away from the group and play by himself or just stand on the sidelines and watch his peers. He was sometimes difficult to engage in any type of interaction. It was stressful and upsetting. I was worried.

We called First Steps, Kentucky’s statewide early intervention system that provides services to children with developmental disabilities from birth to age three and their families. Being completely honest, it was extremely difficult to even make the call because I was admitting that something was “wrong” and that I couldn’t “fix” my son.

There was a lot of guilt and self-criticism too. Why hadn’t I identified this behavior as a problem sooner? Why did I wait so long to call? Was my son going to have a different and possibly more difficult life than the one I had imagined for him?

A social worker was assigned to our case to guide us through and help coordinate the process. The initial concern was that he wasn’t speaking because of not being able to hear, possibly due to the numerous ear infections he’d suffered under the age of one. He had finally had to get tubes placed at eleven months. His hearing was tested at CCHMC and once it was deemed within the normal range, he was evaluated by a therapist to determine if the problem was communicative or social and the severity of the problem.

It was ascertained that he had a speech delay and qualified for an Individual Family Service Plan. He met with a speech therapist for one hour every week for one-on-one exercises in our home. I started talking more than I had been, pointing out everything of interest during car rides and saying hello and goodbye to everything and everyone we passed or met. I also ramped up my bedtime reading routine. It was suggested that one of several books read each night remain constant – Goodnight Moon was the chosen tome. Additionally, we made the decision to switch his daycare provider. Progress was slow at best.

Months before he turned three, we had to start the process of having him evaluated at the local public preschool to determine if he qualified for further therapy. He qualified and the week after he turned three he started attending public preschool as a Special Education student. We worked with the staff speech therapist to discuss challenges and create goals for W’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). He would continue to have one-on-one speech therapy. Progress continued to be slow, but there were some improvements. He would occasionally join other kids in play but was still a loner most of the time.

He continued saying words here and there. Most of his speech was still unintelligible but he was making more of an effort to speak. Some people were very critical of his progress and would sternly tell him to “quit talking like a baby and talk like a big boy.” How ignorant and maddening! The implication was that W was just playing around and purposely not speaking “correctly.” Others complained that their kids had started speaking early and hadn’t been quiet a day since. 

[quote]I was envious of these parents. They could ask their kids questions and get answers back.[/quote]

W shared very little to nothing about his time spent out of my care. I would ask him questions about his day and he would stare out the car window as if I wasn’t speaking. I ascribed part of this behavior to his gender, but I felt I was missing out on so much more.

I did consider myself lucky that in every other way he was developmentally where he should be. He was sweet, had good coordination, knew his shapes and colors, and loved to be read to. He was even getting better about playing as part of the group and spent less time off by himself. Despite all of this, I occasionally felt embarrassed by his Special Education status. I knew that he was clever but felt that others were harshly judging my intelligence or parenting based on my son’s performance in their presence.

Right before turning five, his speech quickly and starkly improved. Within the first weeks of returning to school, he was speaking in short, complete sentences. It was truly amazing. This trend continued for the next few months with lots of new vocabulary to boot. A year later, his father and I met with his kindergarten teacher and speech therapist for our annual review of W’s Individualized Education Plan. We were told that W was exactly where he needed to be for his age, and that his teacher hadn’t even identified him as a kid who had ever required speech therapy. My heart swelled to hear this assessment of my son.

He officially “graduated” out of Special Education in October 2015. He still chooses to play on his own sometimes but I don’t see it as him feeling like an outsider. As an only child, he is very good at playing independently; this is something for which I am grateful and this ability serves him well. He is a confident little guy and he has no trouble communicating with his peers. I am consciously aware of how wonderful it is when he gets in the car and tells me a story about his day. It’s not just noise; it’s him sharing his life with me and it’s precious. I sat and listened to him initiate a conversation with a friend yesterday and my heart exploded just a little bit.

He has found his voice and he is finally being heard and understood.


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I am a native Cincinnatian, born and raised on the West Side and currently settled across the river in Northern Kentucky. I’m a former Highlander, Bearcat, Falcon, and Fulbright Scholar. My greatest challenge hitherto is the one I love the most: being a Mom to an energetic eight-year-old boy. When not working full-time at one of the city’s great hospitals, I’m trying to fit in all there is to do in this wonderful city – and there is certainly A LOT to do! As one who loves to read, I am an advocate for the public library and go multiple times a week. You can often find me at Music Hall enjoying the ballet, opera, and orchestra. I am an introvert, a bit of a foodie, an NPR listener, a pessimist who likes to think she’s a realist, a middle child, an ex-wife and amicable co-parent, a fiancée, and much, much more. I feel lucky to have grown up in Cincinnati and to be raising my own child in this wonderful city.


  1. Hi

    I am in a similar boat as u were. My son is 3.2 yr old wth speech delay n exactly the same symptoms like yours. I am from India n we hardly have any govt support. I have started with speech therapy. But the fear of ASD keeps me awake on so many nights.
    Reading you gave me hope. Thanks n God bless our kids.
    If u have time n if u don’t mind can we chat so that I can get some guidance from you.

  2. Thank you for writing and sharing this! My son just turned 2 and has been in speech therapy for 6 months with some progress but not as much as I had hoped. He also had ear tubes at 11 months and countless ear infections both before and after. He is too young to know if he will have any long term speech problems and I worry about all the conditions that are unlikely but possible. It helps to hear your story and know that we are not alone as well as that there is hope that everything can turn out just fine.

  3. This is one of the best blog posts I have ever read. It gives me hope that my son, who is almost four, can have a normal life! The experience you have had with your son describes mine to the T. I didn’t want to admit the problem, but knew I had to. At two, we got him therapy in a program like the one you used here in our state and have put him in a preschool that has a mixture of special needs kids with those who are typically developing. Progress is slow and I am frustrated and scared for my son. We had him evaluated for ASD and it was determined that he is not autistic, but has a global developmental delay and that his behaviors indicated to the therapist that he would eventually catch up developmentally. I have done a lot of self blame… his birth was extremely difficult and was induced. Did that cause this? I know, logically, that doesn’t get me anywhere. The situation is causing a strain on my relationship with my own mother because she is very judgmental and insinuates that she could parent my son better than I can. My husband is adopted and we are now learning about his blood relations to see if there might be a genetic component to all of this. He also self blames.

    I feel we have hit a bit of a plateau developmentally and reading this article could not have come at a better time! If you have any time at all I would love to hear from you about more specific things you did with your son– especially in the potty training area.

    Thank you!!! I needed hope and you have given that to me.

  4. My daughter was in the same boat at two years, small words and grunts, didnt interact with other children and cling onto me. We put her in speech therapy and in preschool at 3 but pulled her out because she just wasnt ready. She seemed to just click one day at around 3 and a half and now at 4 she uses sentences and picks up new words on her own. She still has trouble pronouncing some things, but she is doing so well now.

  5. I came to this post when searching for hope, for my 3 yo son who is having speech delay. He can say things now, but he still doesnt understand much. We need to talk to him more, to make him understand what we’re saying. I am so sad when his Occupational Therapist said that his progress is slow today. I cried at work a few times. I am a working mother. My husband is at home, not working, to take care of our son and sending him to therapy sessions.

    I hope he gets better soon. I am hoping for miracle.. 🙁

  6. I am happy I ran into this article and comments makes me feel like I am not alone even though at this moment I do, no one in my family has been through speech therapy and it feels very looked down on, many moments I feel like I’ve failed my son and rethink what I did wrong. When he was a year old he was very much talkative and one day everything slowly regressed he stopped saying words no longer pointed at things and he has been going to therapy now for 3 months and has made small progress but I can’t help but there are moments where I find myself being frustrated because I want him to just “get it” I cry every so often but I try to remain strong and continue to talk to him as much as I can.

  7. I just wanted to say thank you for this blog post. I discovered it during one my late night google searches concerning my son’s speech delay. Simply put: Thank you! I could’ve written so much of this myself.


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