A little more than three years ago - when Olivia was 2 1/2 years old - we took a trip to the pediatrician's office in an attempt to figure out why Olivia wasn't talking.
She had a few words in her vocabulary - mama, daddy, hi - but other than that she was non-verbal. Looking back now at our home movies from a trip we took to Florida in March 2006, it's amazing to see just how non-verbal she really was. Most of her communication was through her own version of 'signing' and yet we still knew what she needed.
By August 2006, we knew something was wrong. What few words she did have beyond 'mama', 'daddy' and 'hi' were very difficult to understand. I feared that something was terribly wrong with her - something had to be causing her speech issues (things that crossed my mind including hearing loss or Autism).
At the pediatrician's office, one look into Olivia's ears solved part of the issue - severe wax build-up. I'm not talking just a minor amount of wax that you might find in any child's ears. Oh no. I'm talking wax that had been building up INSIDE her ear canal and was as hard as plastic. This had been an ongoing issue with Olivia since birth - her ear canals are too small to flush the wax normally, according to our pediatrician - but now it was causing serious problems.
On that day, the doctor flushed her ears with a warm water/hydrogen peroxide solution and let's just say "ICK" would be the best way to describe what came out of her ears. I felt horrible -- my poor baby must have been in pain - but we didn't know.
And then, after her ears were clear, Olivia's voice suddenly got much louder! It was like she was hearing clearly for the first time in two and a half years. (I should note, this was the FIRST time our doctor had suggested flushing the ears -- at all prior visits she had just scraped the visible wax out. I had NO idea that the wax issue was so bad. Still, I felt like a horrible mom).
We talked about Olivia's speech issue and our doctor suggested going to see a specialist for an evaluation. After a few minor insurance bumps in the road, we found a speech pathologist and she evaluated Olivia. Her diagnosis: speech delay. It wasn't severe, but it was serious enough that she recommended speech therapy.
[A note here about insurance and speech therapy: we discovered that most insurance will not cover speech therapy for kids unless (1) the kids have had a stroke or (2) they were in a serious accident. A speech delay caused by any other reason wasn't covered. And, so we were faced with the possibility of paying out of pocket $85 per 1/2 hour session with a therapist. However, she suggested we check out the Speech and Hearing Clinic at the University of Toledo - we could received therapy twice a week for 16 weeks for only $256 per semester!].
So, in January 2007 (a day before Emma was scheduled to arrive!), Olivia started speech therapy at UT. Her baseline readings at the initial testing were terrible.
These are the words Olivia used during play observation: mama, me, down, duck, no, two, eat, yeah, night-night, up, oven, three. It should be noted that she only used primary vowel sounds and left the endings off most words -- words like 'down' were pronounced 'dow'. She substituted 'd' for 'p' and 't' for 'k', among other things.
The initial evaluation was that her 'expressive communication skills are limited and her speech is frequently unintelligible.'
That was heartbreaking.
Over the course of the next three years, Olivia spent every Tuesday and Thursday evening in speech therapy. We only took the summers off - to give her (and us) a break and to see how she would progress on her own.
We could hear the progress she was making as the therapy sessions continued. The joy you feel when you see your child reach certain speech milestones -- well, it's an amazing feeling. We celebrated each sound she mastered - we were thrilled at each /th/, /r/, /p/, /k/, and /g/ that was successful - and by this summer we had realized that maybe, just maybe, we were reaching the end of therapy.
A few weeks ago, we were told the good news - Olivia was exactly where she should be for her age, as far as sound production and articulation!
On Tuesday, her final evaluation read: "It is recommended that Olivia be discharged from therapy due to her success at age appropriate intelligibility."
And so, tonight - three years after the initial diagnosis of serious speech delay - Olivia will be 'graduating' from speech therapy!
The little girl who we feared might never speak is now a little chatterbox who talks from dawn to dusk.
My sweet Olivia, mommy and daddy are so very proud of you!