Multiples, Speech Delays and Mommy Guilt

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I’ve heard that multiples are more likely to have speech delays from various sources: books, web resources, paediatricians, and other parents of multiples. There doesn’t seem to be a definite explanation for these delays, but there seem to be two main theories: (1) multiples develop their own ways of communicating with each other so they don’t need to learn to talk, or (2) multiples don’t get as much one-on-one time with parents/caregivers. Here’s our real-life experience to add to what I’ve learned from others.

Our girls seem to have some speech delays. They were tested when they were 19 months old. S was measured at 14 months for expressive language and 16 months for receptive language. (R wouldn’t cooperate with the testing, but she’s probably pretty close to her sister). They are both usually able to make it clear to us what they want through sounds, pointing, and signs, but they use very few recognizable spoken words. The next step here is for the parent(s) to go to a workshop with a speech pathologist who shows us techniques to support our children’s speech development. Our babysitting plans didn’t work out, so I ended up going alone. There were about 15-20 parents at the workshop, and it sounded like their children had a variety of speech delays. I’m quite sure I was the only parent with twins at the meeting, and I didn’t have my husband along to provide an alternate perspective on the experience.

I responded to the workshop on two levels. From one perspective, it made sense to take this approach. Parents are (usually) the people who spend the most time with their children and they know them best. They are best suited to integrate activities to work on speech in to their family’s daily activities. And, it made sense to work with parents alone because it is much easier to share information and answer questions without toddlers. My rational mind was able to take in the information provided and consider how I could use it to help my daughters. I felt more confident that this would be a short-term concern and that there steps we could take to support them over the next few months.

However, from another perspective, the recurring message of the workshop seemed to be that parents need to spend time one-on-one with their children. As a result, I left the workshop feeling very guilty and discouraged. My mind quickly made the connection that if the solution to the problem is more individual attention than the cause must be lack of individual attention. I felt that I had let my children down by not focusing enough on each of them and not making time to talk with each of them to support their language development. I compounded my guilt by worrying that choosing a childcare provider who does not have English as a first language contributed to my daughters’ delays. Though I specifically asked about applying these techniques with multiples, the speech pathologist didn’t have any concrete suggestions. I was left trying to figure out how I could fit 15 to 30 minutes/child/day of more focused individual attention.

We’ve only had a few days to consider what to do next, but we are looking at changing our bedtime routine so we can each spend time with one daughter. We are also trying to include more one-on-one time on the weekends. I’m also implementing the techniques I learned with both girls when we play together. This is the best I can do during the day when I have two toddlers and their older brother to take care for. I remind myself that I provide them with a safe, stimulating and fun place to play and learn. They are clearly happy little girls, which helps to dissipate the mommy guilt.

I’m sure everyone has experience mommy guilt. How do you deal with it? (If you have advice on dealing with speech delays, I’d love to hear them too.)

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12 thoughts on “Multiples, Speech Delays and Mommy Guilt”

  1. Thank you for posting this. My fraternal twin boys were evaluated by Early Childhood Intervention on Wednesday of this week. They are 2 and one of them speaks three words and the other one speaks none. They have been labeled at a YEAR behind in language since they don’t talk. But that lack of communication spills over into other areas of development and in the other areas they assessed both boys are about 6-7 months behind. They boys will be getting speech therapy and developmental therapy twice a week starting this month.

    I have been dealing with HUGE amounts of mommy guilt on so many levels. It is hard. But, I have lots of supportive friends and family to help us travel this road. Everyone reminds me that the boys are happy and healthy and in a very loving environment. Those are the things that matter most and the rest will catch up. Sometimes it is hard to focus on that idea.

    We had 3 development specialists and a speech therapist here on Wednesday for the evaluation. They said it is very common for them to see multiples. They also said the rules all change when there is more than one.

    Good luck in your journey with your girls!

  2. We just graduated from Early Intervention. We’ve been seeing PT/OT since the girls were 4 months old. They are now 21 months old. Along with the physical/motor/fine skills, I had a fear of the speech delay. We have no speech delay, and in fact, we are now ahead in most developmental areas. How did I manage this? I have found that I am always talking in full sentences to the girls and reading as much as possible. Once the talking starts, it becomes a flood of words. We also did some sign language with them, but always spoke words while signing. I always encourage the girls to use a word when they are cry or screaming with frustration. Those a learning moments. Teaching them how to communicate what the cry or scream is about.

    My husband is a pilot and we live in Japan. I don’t think that we have done one-on-one time more than a handful of times with our girls. Our life just doesn’t allow it. But I make use out of the times when one is playing content to get in some one-on-one time with the other. If I can grab a couple minutes here and there, then I feel like I am doing what I can.

    I struggled with guilt for a long time, but I have come to realize that I am doing the best that I can. I give them my all, which some days isn’t what I would like it to be. In the end, I know that I have to beautiful, happy, healthy children that are being raised in the loving and safe home. What more can I give to them?

  3. My girls have been in speech therapy, but it was purely for articulation. We’re fortunate that they’re off the charts (in a good way) in both expression and comprehension.

    Mommy guilt, I can relate to! My self-talk goes like this: No two parent-child relationships are the same, because of a zillion differences in personalities and dynamic, so I might as well stop comparing us to anyone else right now. Am I doing the very best I can, within the goals that my husband and I share? At the end of a two-week chunk of time, are we closer to our goals of healthy, happy, wholesome, whole children? If so, I’m good.

    It doesn’t hurt to read the research and realize that their peers will have far more influence on how my daughters turn out than we do. As soon as we arm them with the ability to make their own choices in action and friends, it should be okay.
    Sadia recently posted SassMy Profile

  4. Oh, Jenna, big hugs to you.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve just been to a toddler workshop today and they said the best thing you can do for your children’s language development is simply to talk to them, all the time.

    I do like Anna does – when one is doing something else, I’ll have my one-on-one time with the other. Typically one is interested and one is off doing their own thing (and the twin changes on a daily basis too!) so it works somewhat for us.

    My daughter talks far too much already (15 months) but her brother has about 3 words and we speak the same to both. So there’s that too.
    Marcia (123 blog) recently posted Something strange is happeningMy Profile

  5. Sometimes one kid gets up earlier from a nap and that tends to be decent focus time so maybe you could try time then? I find it hard to try to keep tabs on all this when I am working too so we try to talk to them when they are eating their meals (breakfast/dinner) to gage how they are doing. The other key is to make them ask for things rather than just anticipating to stop one kid from whining. I have a hard time with that but our EI person says that is the best way to get them talking. I do plan to separate them in classes for preschool if possible just to give them a break from each other.
    Mommy, Esq. recently posted Better Late Than NeverMy Profile

  6. I would dump the guilt. The interesting thing about having twins (and an older son) = 3 boys, is the freedom it brings – I am free from guilt because I don’t have the emotional space or time for it! The regular demands of day -to day leave very little time to ponder, reflect or second guess what I do just to get by! And my boys are happy, healthy, well adjusted and loving. I don’t ask for more than that. One twin is much more articulate (at age 3) than the other. I encourage the other one to talk and I just juggle their needs as best I can. You are right to acknowledge your limits “..This is the best I can do during the day when I have two toddlers and their older brother to take care for.”

  7. You are doing just fine. Don’t let yourself feel guilty when you are seriously doing your best. People that advise one-on-one time when you have twins, just don’t understand the logistics of it. My girls had slight speech delays and we saw a speech therapist once a week until they were 2 1/2. The therapist offered wonderful support. So, get the support you need, and talk to those kids (as I’m sure you are already doing). Learning to talk is about listening and imitating, and I don’t see why that can’t be done all together. For the record, my therapist never recommended one-on-one time. I’d just throw that comment out, and keep doing what you’re doing.

  8. What a great post! I’d also like to add that delay in speech also comes from prematurity. (Twins are more likely than singletons to be born early.) While it’s always a good idea to spend time with each of your children individually, don’t beat yourself up over it! You’re obviously a caring mom doing the very best she can. That’s plenty in the eyes of kids.
    Christina Tinglof recently posted Just Say No…Yeh- RightMy Profile

  9. Diane, I need us to be best friends. I love your advice — DUMP THE GUILT. We are all doing the absolute best we can, and our kids are alive and healthy and the speech thing is going to work itself out eventually.

    My boys are 6 and are in speech therapy at school, and finding one-on-one time to work on their speech at home has been a big challenge. In the last week I’ve had luck at bathtime. I’ll plunk the other kids in front of the tv, and go sit with whomever is in the bath, and we can work on speech and sometimes we even have time for me to read a story or two.

    My heart goes out to all of you above who commented about feeling guilty… I know the feeling. And I’ve just recently seen my boys catch up to their peers (actually their classmates, who are mostly a year younger, but whatever) in everything BUT speech. It is the best feeling, and all of you are going to see it happen with your kids too.
    Jen recently posted where my brains are addled and my dreams of a storybook orchard trip are dashedMy Profile

  10. My third child, right before the birth of my 4th started speech therapy. While I didn’t have multiples, my oldest was just 6 and life was crazy. Here are some tips on what I learned from the therapist.

    No sippy cups – ever. Only have the kids drink from straws, this strengthens the muscles needed to talk. Also, this could be fun for multiples, have them blow through straws and race cotton balls across the table. Blowing bubbles is also a good exercise and fun. Doesn’t require 1-on-1 time either. While these tips don’t address them saying words, they are all exercises that will strengthen the right muscles which will make talking easier. Good luck!

  11. I know it’s hard to find time for anything, but I found a great resource for our speech “homework” called Speechtails that we do online and it’s so easy and fun and I have had great success with it!. Give it a shot!
    Good Luck – keep on keepin’ on!!!! it’ll only get easier!
    Vikki B, Indiana

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