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The first step on our journey to Early Intervention was a wellness checkup. We’d just moved and I was late finding a new pediatrician, so our 12-month well visit didn’t show up until 16 months. It ended up being a good thing. At 12 months my son was hitting his milestones. Well, the milestones I was paying attention to. He was taking a few steps. He played. He picked up his toys, he had a pincer grasp, he babbled.

For the next 4 months I was convinced he was just on the verge of saying his first words. He said “no,” then he stopped. He said “ma ma ma,” but it didn’t seem to mean anything in particular. We had a month or so of “ah-guh” which might have referred to an animal, but it never became clear. By that 16 month appointment all we had was “uh oh,” a recent development.

If I’d taken him in earlier, I may not have mentioned my concern that he wasn’t picking up words. After all, plenty of kids are late talkers. Everyone told me he’d talk eventually and not to worry. But after waiting for a word to materialize, I was getting a little anxious. I wasn’t seeing progress.

A lot of people say everything that came out of my son’s therapy is because I was unsettled. I don’t take the credit, though. I brought it up. But I know a lot of stories of people who brought up similar concerns and didn’t get any useful feedback. I give the credit to our pediatrician.

They say to ask your doctor questions. I almost always do. And this was no different. When she’d finished his physical exam, I brought up my concerns that he wasn’t talking. She didn’t give me the same old late-talker story. Instead, she started asking questions. She’d seen how he worked, his yelps and cries to get what he wanted. She saw that he wasn’t pointing (I had no idea he was supposed to be pointing already). I don’t remember all the questions she asked. But I do remember that she asked me if he could identify his body parts.

That was one of the moments that I realized something was actually wrong. I thought of all the things he’d have to do to identify a body part. He’d have to listen to me, he’d have to understand the word I was saying, he’d have to know that word referred to a part of his body and he’d have to make some gesture to indicate where it was. I couldn’t see him doing ANY of those things, especially not all of them together.

Then she did something else that changed everything. She gave me pamphlets and phone numbers. There were some developmental medicine centers… and there was one for Early Intervention.

I didn’t really know what Early Intervention was. But I took them home. And I called.

I guess that’s the other part where I can take some credit. I called. I didn’t think it was something scary. I didn’t worry about what it might mean. I didn’t even think about a stigma. None of that crossed my mind.

What I thought about was being able to talk to my son. I thought about him being able to ask for milk or raisins. I thought about being able to ask him if he wanted to go on a walk and having him say “Yes.” At that point, our life was lived based on whether he cried or didn’t.

If he was hungry, he’d pull me over to the kitchen. I’d hold up something and if he wanted it, he’d do nothing. If he didn’t want it, he’d cry. That was how our whole life worked. And sometimes, if I was wrong a few times in a row, he wouldn’t stop crying. And then it was hopeless. Just the words “Yes” or “No,” or even his ability to nod or shake his head, they would be life-changing.

Turns out they were. But we still had a while to go before we got that far.

Still, those first steps are the most important.