Marshall was such an easy baby. He slept through the night incredibly quickly, he had the sweetest temperament, and just an all around engaging personality.
Not everything was going easy though. I was a new mom all by myself. The day we got home from the hospital was the same day Brad had to go back to work. We lived hundreds of miles away from all family and all of my friends in Kansas City were at a different point in their life than I was.
I was determined to breastfeed. Brad and I worked hard but we were young and just starting out in life. Breastfeeding is incredibly healthy for the baby but it is also free. So I tried in vain to nurse, it ended with both Marshall and I in tears as well as permanent physical scars for me. I felt like a complete failure as I quit breastfeeding and instead pumped for an entire year to get Marshall his breastmilk without ever having to buy or use formula.
We fought through nursing struggles and then continued to fight. I spent all my time reading to him, playing with him, and singing to him. Everything was completely one on one- sometimes two on one with Brad joining us when he wasn’t working. All of this and at 18 months Marshall still had no words.
I watched as Marshall would follow intricate directions and knew everything we were saying. He would try so hard to form words but nothing but grunts and gibberish fell from his lips. Frustration building in his eyes and finally tears would replace it. He had so much to say but not a soul in the world understood, not even his own mother and father.
My mama instincts were sounding alarm bells but whenever I brought up concerns, they were brushed off. “Some kids just talk later”, “boys always talk later than girls”, “enjoy it now! Soon he will be talking your ear off!”
I was a first time mom as well as a young mom, it was easy to dismiss my concerns. But as Marshall’s second birthday came and went there were still less than a handful of words.
So we pushed our doctor, we pushed the hospital, we pushed the state. Finally, we got him help and my fears were confirmed. Marshall was quickly diagnosed with Apraxia of speech.
Apraxia is a neurological disorder that affects the signal between the brain and the jaw/ tongue/ and lips. In every other way he is a “regular kid”. He is sociable, can easily pick up on the emotions of others, rated above average in cognitive ability- everything is average or above average except for expressive language.
This was an incredible relief as well as difficult revelation. We realized that from day one Marshall has struggled and fought to succeed. It was due to the apraxia that we were unable to breastfeed. It affected his ability to eat and drink. It caused horrible frustration and low self-esteem when it came to talking and trying to socialize with peers.
He was called names by other children at the playground. They didn’t understand why this little boy couldn’t even say his name but instead would grunt. They called him stupid and a monster. With the help of his speech therapist, he learned sign language. She said she had never known a child who picked up on sign language so quickly. So we tried using ASL but that led to children calling him a baby. (Side note: please don’t teach your kids “baby sign”, call it what it is, American Sign Language/ sign language)
He overcame though. He didn’t let the cruelty of others stop him from reaching out. He is now praised by teachers for being the kid who is friends with everyone. He is friends with the neurotypical children in his class and is the only non-special ed student that also reaches out to the children with autism, down syndrome, and cerebral palsy when they have their mainstream classroom time with him and the rest of class. I cannot say how incredibly proud I am of him.
Because people hear apraxia and assume he doesn’t understand or that his disability extends more than just the expressive language, he pushes himself to prove people wrong. Last year his teacher told me that he was her best student and one of the smartest children she has ever had in her classroom. She described him as worldly, hard-working, and determined.
Marshall has fought for everything he has and is now the top of his class. He is making strides in speech and hopefully, in a few years, will be able to graduate from speech altogether. All through incredible determination and a strong work ethic. He’s no longer called a monster, but the most important part is he does not allow anyone else to be made to feel like a monster or outsider.
It is my hope that you always keep this fire within you Marshall. Always push yourself to surpass others’ expectations of you, always stay sweet and kind to others, always be your best self. Because you are absolutely incredible.