It's no secret how a child grows. Everyone knows the sequence of development, give or take a few months. People get excited about the achievement of each new ability. Parents track milestones in baby books. Strangers in the grocery store ask "how old?" and follow it up with a related question or comment about the age-appropriate milestone. Even kids want to know what that other, younger kid in the corner can do.
When you have a child with a developmental delay or disability, however, milestones feel different. They're a blend of happiness if your child meets them (even months or years past their "expected" arrival) and a strange conglomeration of sadness, hope, and mourning, with a hefty dose of "he'll-get-there-when-and-if-he-gets-there,-and-I-don't-really-care-if he-gets-there-anyhow."
Instead, peoples' reactions to your child's development/behavior becomes the interesting progression to observe.
It starts off innocently enough. The lady in front of you in line, the librarian who you're pretty sure does story time once a week, your aunt you never see, a friend whose baby is two years ahead of yours...they all want to know what's happening in your baby's life and they innocently assume that your child is a train on the same set of tracks as all the other kids they've known.
"Oh, 3 months old. What a cutie. He must have the best smile when his daddy walks in the door!"
"He's probably rolling over and almost sitting up by now. How exciting!"
"I'm sure he is just crawling everywhere! Hope you've baby proofed. My niece was into EVERYTHING once she started crawling around."
"Really, he isn't trying to "talk"? My little one was babbling ALL. THE. TIME. when he was that age. Especially when we'd go out somewhere."
"He is pointing though, right? That's such a fun stage."
Then the judgment and blame begins to creep in:
"Well, I'm sure he at least says 'Mom'....No? Well, you talk to him so much I guess he doesn't have a chance to get a word in. You do it all for him."
"Hey there, that kid's almost as big as you are! You sure you have to carry him? He can walk can't he?"
"No shoes? I guess he doesn't need any if you're just going to keep him on your back all the time in that contraption [baby carrier]"
"When my babies were little, I put up a baby gate with really sturdy wood posts so they could pull up on it. You know, I think all my kids were able to pull up by 7 months and they were all walking by 10 or 11 months. I'm sure that gate is what helped them learn. Have you tried a wooden gate yet?"
"Well, I am sure he'll learn to [insert unmet milestone here] any day now."
" I know you said the doctors don't think he'll ever be able to do it, but I know God will work you a miracle."
"He'll grow out of it. Don't worry."
"My friend has a friend with a child with the same diagnosis and she went on this special diet and now she's cured. I'll have her give you a call. Everything will be fine."
"He's just a boy. All boys take time to grow up."
I'd like to believe that the next development in this conversation is one of genuine support. An apology for making assumptions, judging, and minimizing the reality of your family's daily like and future. A reaching out for a true understanding of our unique situation. For some people in our lives (the best ones!) this is the next milestone. It is wonderful and I don't mind the process that it took to arrive. For most people, however, it's not the case--short on time, lack of opportunity, or, most likely, I don't always want to be the one putting on my advocacy/educator hat. Maybe next time this happens, I'll give them the link to this blog post, and let them know that they might want to do a little more reading on appropriate development and milestones--for themselves. :)