New parents are taught that the window of opportunity for optimal development lies within the first three years of life. So for many of us, as soon as we register with the state for early intervention and/or submit all necessary forms to insurance, we hit the ground running with medical appointments and therapies. We may have no clue where we are headed or what the road will feel like beneath our uncalloused feet, but we go because the only thing worse than hurting trying is the fear of looking back at time wasted.
We look at those who came before us, labeling the parents as wise and the children as seemingly obvious products of intensive therapies and diligent caregivers. We wonder if there is any way we will be able to meet the standards they set. We wonder if we will acquire the knowledge they hold. We wonder if we are up to the task of raising a special baby.
Our family’s early approach to helping Hope succeed was to have as many hands and eyes on her as possible, figuring what one therapist might miss, another will catch. And when the appointments end, mommy and daddy will carry forth a therapeutic approach through the rest of the day.
This worked well during Hope’s early life, when we were worried about how she would develop. We felt that when the timer buzzed on Hope’s third birthday, time would be up and what we had accomplished up until that moment would be the most we’d get out of her, so we had to make it count. But over the course of the past two years, we worked with someone who may be considered atypical: She sees the whole child, knowing that life doesn’t play out like the textbooks she studied getting her degree. And so with her guidance we learned the true meaning of “balance” and “everything in moderation.”
This could never have happened at the beginning of Hope’s life. We needed time to learn who she would become as a little person. Hope is only two years old, but we know so much about her already. We understand her strengths as well as the areas that need a little more work. And it is clear to us now that where she once needed variety, she now needs consistency.
So it is time to pare down her experiences so that we can spend more time fostering emerging skills. That is, the once diverse approach across PT, OT, DI, speech, and school that served Hope so well in teaching her what she can do will now be more aligned to increase the application of these acquired skills. We will go from two physical therapists to one, continuing the overlapping strategies of PT and OT. And her speech therapist and developmental interventionist will aim for the same goals but in their own unique ways, forwarding these approaches to her school classroom. Hope will continue to have the exposure of many different therapists but should come to understand that we all expect the same from her, which is a curiosity that motivates her to push beyond her comfort level. And we know that it is up to all of her caregivers to nurture this curiosity and subsequent exploration that will continue to facilitate her growth.
In our experience, a child can receive too much therapy if the therapies are not aligned. To the parents of a new special baby, our advice is simple: At the start of life, you won’t necessarily know what “aligned therapy” means, but in time, your child will show you. Give yourself and your baby time to settle into a routine that makes sense. And if you find yourself unbalanced, feeling more like a drill sergeant than an adoring mom or dad, maybe it’s time to step back and weigh skill building against your child’s emotional well-being.