Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mommy Radar Versus "He'll Grow Out Of It"

It makes me cringe anytime I hear a friend complain that her doctor told her that her child will "grow out of it" or "don't worry, he's fine" for something that the child truly will not grow out of...or at least in my eyes. It also makes me cringe when I am at work and see a child with orthopedic impairments that could have been corrected had the parent not been told the child would grow out of it...hind sight is 20/20! Most of all, what makes me cringe is when a young toddler show signs of autism such as language delays and social-emotional or sensory processing differences, yet the parent is told the child will be fine...yikes! Although children with a mild language delay may truly grow out of it, these are children who are not displaying major "red flags" for autism. It is a shame when a child is supposedly going to grow out of things, yet so much time is wasted when it is realized that the child never did "grow out of it". My opinion is to err in favor of the child and get a speech, occupational, or physical therapy evaluation when there is a concern. If the evaluation results indicate that the child is fine, then maybe he will be. But it can never hurt to have the child looked at.

I have a mommy radar and it has helped in so many situations. I believe that all moms have some built-in radar, and just need to listen to it. When my son was a couple of weeks old and was massively spitting up, I knew in my gut that he had a dairy allergy just like my daughter had. So, I quit consuming dairy so that my breast milk wouldn't have any. Guess what, my son got somewhat better. By the age of 5 months, he got tested by the allergist, and results indicated what my radar told son is allergic to dairy products. Good thing I didn't wait until he was old enough to be tested...I listened to my gut! That would have been alot of unnecessary belly aches and hives had I not quit consuming cow's milk. I also pushed for my son to get on reflux medications, because he was losing weight, congested, gassy, lots of hiccups, and spit up quite often. I had to convince the doctor that my child needed the med.s...guess what, my son got better with two med.s, not completely perfect, but much better. For some reason, our regular doctor was out of town during this time, so I had to see one of his partners. She didn't know me, nor do I think she knew I was a pediatric OT until after our discussion on reflux. I would like for a doctor to listen to me as a mom, and not have them listen more because they know that I work with special needs infants. I would hope that as a mom my word is good enough, and that I should get some help for my kid. This is why so often at work, I have to talk personally to the doctor or type up a letter for the doctor to know what I am seeing during therapy sessions.

So many of the mothers of my clients or so many of my friends start to doubt their "mommy radar". Maybe it is because other friends or their mother-in-law convinced them that the child is okay. Or maybe they are more passive and don't want to argue with a physician. But there is another category of moms, and those are the fiesty little women who let their "mommy radar" be the driving force to figure out what is going on with their child and how to fix whatever is going on. I see this drive in many moms of children with degenerative diseases. I also see this drive in moms of kids who have been diagnosed with autism....especially since the etiology of autism is such a debated topic. And of course what mom isn't going to become an investigator to figure out why the child is the way he is and what can be done for the child to be as functional as possible....or depending upon the diagnosis, find a cure for the child's disease or disability.

There is another category of moms that I sometimes work with and that is the group who are in denial. This is a typical stage of grief but it can also be a hinderance to the child making some progress. Because I work with infants and toddlers, it is much easier for a parent to be in denial than when the child is older. Especially if a child has behavior problems, the parent will say "He's just acting two years old". Now, two year olds are known for being stubborn, independent, "busy", and at times inattentive. But, a child with a developmental disability is different. It might be that the tantrums are more frequent, longer or more intense than most kids that age. Or it might be that the child is "fleeting" around the room disorganized like a hummingbird, whereas two year olds are "busy", but not disorganized. Even my son who is 14 months old can sit and stack blocks or focus on a fine motor activity for 5 minutes if he so wishes. Now, he doesn't do that all day long, but he can briefly stick to one activity. This is where so many of the kids with a developmental delay differ. Because they can't focus for long, their speech, cognition, and fine-motor skills suffer! So, this makes me wonder is the denial a lack of knowledge on what typical development is or is it a purposeful coping mechanism in which in the back of that parents mind they know there really is something wrong. Well, it is obviously a different answer for different families. Culture, education, and family dynamics can all feed into the reason for denial or appearance of denial. I have witnessed moms being told by a physician that the child has cerebral palsy. Then, when hearing the mom talk to other people she will say the child is fine neurologically. This could be her not understanding, not wanting to reveal the information, or could be denial.

The last group of moms I see is the ones who initially had worries. Those worries were put to rest by medical staff that were giving off wrong information by saying the child will "grow out of it, he'll be just fine!"...not purposefully wrong, of course, but that is what they truly thought at that time. FYI, I see this happen frequently with sensory processing problems (see for "red flags" of poor sensory processing with infants). Then, as months go on the mom is wondering why the child hasn't improved. Then, right before the kid turns three years old and is about to graduate from the early intervention program, the child will receive a definitive diagnosis. The parents will want to make up for lost time and have us "fix" the child or do as much as possible before the kid turns three years old. So, all of the sudden, a family that didn't want my services more than twice a month, wants me at their home at least twice weekly. This category happens alot with genetic diagnoses (e.g. chromosomal abnormalities, mitochondrial diseases). The parents also tend to have a lot of guilt for not listening to their initial gut instincts and for "wasting" time. It is not uncommon for this category of moms to have even had us do an evaluation a year before receiving services. But after the evaluation, the doctor talked them out of receiving therapy services. Or maybe, the doctor didn't do this and the parent just wasn't ready yet. FYI: there are many excellent physicians who suggest parents go get therapy evaluations and yet the parent is not worried, & the evaluation never takes place. So it is not always the doctor to blame!

Listen to your "mommy radar", and for those men out there, listen to your "daddy radar"!

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