Alexis Dow and her daughter, Riley.

One Mom’s Journey with a Late Talker

By: Alexis Dow

A mom to one daughter and Children's Trust of South Carolina's training associate.

Alexis Dow is mom to Riley, a beautiful and bouncy almost three-year-old. Riley is a late talker and has started to find her voice through sign language, speech therapy and occupational therapy. Alexis, who lives in Columbia, generously shared her story and her lessons learned to help other parents facing similar challenges to give them a sense of peace and confidence.

When did you start to worry about Riley not talking? What did you do?

Right around the time she turned one year old, I was worried that she was not saying many words. She was babbling, but she was also a little slow to crawl.

She would point and make this funny squawk when she wanted something. I could see her getting frustrated, and I was getting frustrated because she wasn’t using her words she was having a hard time communicating her needs. It was an unhelpful cycle that was happening more and more.

At Riley’s 12-month well-child visit, I had a fantastic conversation with our pediatrician. She made a referral for us to Baby Net. However, more than just the referral, I really feel like our pediatrician has been a partner with me on this. She also has a child who was slow to talk so she knew exactly what I felt. She was patient with my questions, affirmed my feelings and helped me get a plan of action.

I knew that my husband and I needed help, the kind of help that requires skills and training. Our pediatrician opened that door and has been taking those steps with us. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me.

What is BabyNet and what did they do for you?

BabyNet connects infants and toddlers with developmental delays to professionals in the community who can help. They work with children from birth to age 3.

After the referral is made, BabyNet contacts you and does an over-the-phone assessment. Then, they match you with an organization with the right therapy services. I did a lot of research, read the online reviews and talked with friends.

You have to stay on top of this, follow up with questions, and make sure your child’s file is not falling to the bottom of the pile. KNOW WHO TO CALL! The reality is, at least in this area, is that there is high demand and a shortage of providers. It took us four months to get her into therapy.

You are looking for a therapist who is a good fit for you and your baby. Are the session times going to work for your schedule? Her schedule? You need a consistent time to meet each week, and it needs to be when your child is rested and fed. (Therapy is challenging if they are hungry, tired or both!)

It took us a few tries to find that fit, but it was very important for me to be comfortable and confident with Riley’s therapist. You are your child’s best advocate, and sometimes you have to speak up if something isn’t working for you, and especially for your child.

Riley was born right in the middle of the pandemic. How did that affect you and her?

I believe that being unable to see people’s mouths when they talked because so many were wearing masks, the collective social anxiety and the isolation and lack of socialization had an impact on her. We were all worried about her getting sick and didn’t want anything to happen. We closed ourselves off from experiences that could have helped her grow.

I hear anecdotally that there are A LOT of kids born in the COVID-19 days who are speech delayed. It will be really interesting to learn what researchers say as they do their studies of this crazy time.

What else would you like other parents and families to know?

Here are some of my best tips.

  • Get your village on your page and use your village. Make sure they understand how to follow up on the lessons learned in therapy so that all your caregivers are on the same page.
  • Give yourself a break. Being a parent with a child who may need a little extra help is hard but have confidence in your decisions.
  • Share your experience. Many of us mamas have been through this and talking about it can help you not feel so alone.
  • Be a mama lion, and don’t hesitate to roar. Sometimes, we have to get loud to get what our babies need.
  • When you go through that assessment with BabyNet, do not sugarcoat what you are seeing or not seeing. We want to brag about our kids and share all the great things they are doing. The assessment is when you need to be super honest.
  • Listen to your baby. Give them the chance to use the voice that they are just starting to find.
  • Anyone can make a referral to BabyNet by completing an Online Referral Form or by calling the Central Referral Team at 1-866-512-8881. You don’t have to wait for anyone to do it for you.

Any final thoughts?

I have this video of Riley saying mama from when she was 14 months. I know she can do it, but it breaks my heart that it has been so long since she said it. (Of course, she can say Daddy and eat.) However, I will hear it again and cannot wait for the day.

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