Sherryle Akochi was worried that her children were not hitting their milestones as fast as she expected. She shares her experience even as she advises parents not to compare their children with others
Children grow and develop at different paces. But it is always a cause for alarm when they hit milestones later than their peers. Such is the story of Sherryle Akochi, a mother of two. One year, two years then three years later, her son, Ransley Paul Ojiambo could just utter one or two single words and never a full sentence.
She was devastated. Her relatives would tell her not to be too worried since every child’s developmental trajectory is different. They instead encouraged her to let the boy play with other children so he could learn from them. Her friends told her to seek help from a speech therapist. But the therapist told them to be patient.
That he would talk with time! “But it was hard not to be concerned about it, especially when other children his age seemed to be speaking in full sentences and mine was not,” she reminisces. She remembers teachers asking her uncountable times why she had taken her son to school before he reached school-going age.
In school, Ransley was always quiet even when somebody talked to him. However, he used to write on paper a lot. He hated being forced to do anything. But with time, he got used to teachers and fellow pupils and related well with them. He started constructing full sentences early this year, at four years, to Sherryle and her husband’s joy.
“He has a preference for speaking English even when the rest of us are speaking in Kiswahili. He is too excited about his talking ability such that he asks for permission for simple things such as going to the toilet.
I think he is making up for lost years,” Sherryle laughs. Her daughter, Shellins Pamphilian Ojiambo on the other hand took one and a half years to make her first step. Sherryle started getting really worried when their daughter turned one-year-old and all she could do was crawl.
“I was in and out of hospital thinking that my daughter had a problem. And just when we had gathered enough money to take her for therapy sessions, just like that! She started walking,” she says.
Sherryle remembers this day and the day her son started talking as the happiest days of her life. “Pam is girlish. She loves make-up, while Ransley loves to clean, he surprises us. I think he took after me,” she notes.
Rationally, Sherryle, an accountant by profession, says she knew it was a bad idea to compare her children with others, but the fact that they had not figured out how to do things their peers had already mastered made her and her husband worry.
But from experience, she now tells parents that there is a wide age range for hitting many milestones, and it is completely normal for children to have differences in abilities, motivation, and pace. Lilian Mutsitsa, a child development expert, says children may attempt their first step as early as eight months. They are considered as late boomers if they get to 15 months.
And even then, it doesn’t mean the child has a serious delay. He might be getting around just fine by crawling and not be in a hurry to walk or he could be focusing all his energy on mastering another skill, such as talking.
“Children in their developmental age may develop quickly in one area while holding back in another. Start off by making sure your child has enough floor time and room to practise,” she says.
Mutsitsa further advises parents against using baby walkers, which can hinder development. For children who are late boomers in speech, she advices parents not to worry. “In many cases, a child’s language skills may seem to lag behind, but sooner or later, they would have a sudden explosion of words all at once.
So, if your two-year-old isn’t talking yet, that shouldn’t be cause for alarm. “Keep talking to him and maintain eye contact. Be sure he is understanding you, he will eventually catch up,” she explains.