Gymboree Dropout

Someone once told me that speech delays are the "gateway drug" of Early Intervention and special ed. And holy crap, ain't that the truth?

Show of hands: How many of you started out this journey with a simple concern over your child's communication skills?

I can't really count your hands, because, well, I'm still writing this column and y'all are raising your hands in the future, and, well, I'm guessing most of you aren't actually raising your damn hands in front of your computers, but WHATEVER, POINT IS: a speech delay seems to be the easiest and most obvious thing to "catch."


It's easy to measure and quantify and thus get you in the door for services. My son's other delays and challenges -- of which his initial speech delay was really a symptom of, instead of the other way around -- are much more subtle and easy to miss. But it was hard to miss a kid who barely spoke six words by his second birthday.

So that's what got us to the doctor for that fateful appointment, the one that started it all. The one where our doctor noticed Noah walking around on his tiptoes, and asked a few pointed questions about his diet and his mouth and his behavior in certain situations. The one where I first heard about "sensory issues" outside of mommyblogs or a few biased newspaper articles about whether SPD was real or the latest helicopter parenting epidemic.

It was ... kind of a scary, overwhelming visit, TO PUT IT LIGHTLY, but I'll never forget one good thing that happened that day: I was allowed to stop feeling guilty about dropping out of Gymboree.

There's not much point anymore in looking back at Noah's infancy and babyhood and pick out all the "signs" that we missed along the way -- I hate coloring that time with a shade of "ooooh, that was a SENSORY THING right there" instead of remembering just how exceptional and unique he absolutely was. But oh my God, the Gymboree thing.

If there WAS anything I could stick my finger at and say "that, right there," it would have to be Noah's behavior at Gymboree, as he got older and the classes got bigger and more structured and put more demands on him. He did everything there that later became a "problem" for him at school. He refused to transition, he refused to participate, he wanted to do one single preferred activity over and over and over again. He screamed and put his hands over his ears during the music time, he screamed when other children bumped or jostled him, he screamed whenever he came in contact with something he didn't like the feel of, like the slippery nylon parachute.

He went from enjoying -- even loving -- his time at Gymboree (like I did) to basically spending the entire class howling in agony and rage. I tried time-outs in the waiting room, I tried bribing him with balloons and treats afterwards, I tried scolding and threatening extra nap times.

There were other little kids who didn't like to participate either, or who maybe got angry when it was time for the bubbles or tambourines to go away ... but none of them took it to the level that Noah did. He was the one turned up to 11, the one who seemed in constant flight-or-fight mode, who would get so upset he'd hit or kick me in an deliberate attempt to be taken home.

Story. Of. My. Life. For several years after, right there in a brightly-colored microcosm of clown puppets and balance beams.

It didn't take long for me to get completely sick of the experience -- to be embarrassed by my sweet, happy child turning into a raging brat every week and PAYING A LOT OF MONEY FOR THE PRIVILEGE -- and we quit. I tried a couple other trial classes at other gym or music places and they were just as horrific. So we quit. Again. All of them.

And I agonized! Was I doing Noah a disservice by not "forcing" him to participate? Was it good for him to at least BE THERE, even if he spent the entire time in the corner doing his own thing? Did he just need more time? I felt GUILTY admitting to our doctor and the EI ladies that I had in fact caved and stopped taking him to any sort of class or library storytime or group ANYTHING aimed at toddlers or preschoolers. It was too much, I couldn't take it.

As it turned out, neither could he. And no amount of me forcing him was going to change that. After months of thinking I'd taken the easy way out, I'd actually done exactly the right thing for him. Ta-daa!

Tell me: Did you ever have a similar retroactive light-bulb moment?

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