Not me, wise Maya. Not me. But I do make new mistakes in different ways. And I do believe entirely in making mistakes.
When I was that insanely annoying woman who thought she knew best about parenting (before actual motherhood taught me all I needed to learn) I knew I wouldn’t let Pudding have a dummy (pacifier). Then more information came out about how dummies actually helped reduce the risk of S.I.D.S and I quickly changed my stance. We would have pacifiers, but would give them up before long.
I admit to being a bit of a dummy back then. I never picked up on how soothing a pacifier was to Pudding. Oh, I knew that it could help stop the screaming when I couldn’t figure out what caused the screaming, but I didn’t see her intense need for oral-motor stimulation.
I stopped Pudding having her dummy at just after 18 months old. Pudding gave up the pacifier without any difficulty, and I’m sure I congratulated myself well for it at the time. I certainly didn’t respect how much more difficult it would make things for a child with intense needs and difficulty communicating.
She began looking for other things to put in her mouth: crayons, play dough, anything she could find really. Pudding had pica, a disorder causing her to eat non-edible items. We were lucky that she never did herself any serious harm, though I made more phone calls to poison control than I’d have liked. That oral-motor sensory-seeking continues to this day, though more often than not she can be persuaded to bite on chewelry.
So the second time around, when I knew better, I did better. I would avoid the dangers of pica and compulsively mouthing non-food items by allowing Cubby his pacifier as long as he needed it. And he needed it. Unlike Pudding, whose sensory system was under-responsive in her early years, Cubby was born sensitive and anxious.
He lived with a pacifier in his mouth. I struggled to persuade him to use it just for sleeping, and from a very early age, he would hide them around the house. Pudding took it upon herself as a sisterly duty to ensure that there was a dummy in his mouth at all times. In fairness, his crying distressed her greatly, so consoling him would be soothing for her too.
Cubby has never experienced the pragmatic language delays that impair Pudding’s verbal communication, but as time has passed, I’ve noticed that it is increasingly difficult for others to understand him. During OT we’d work on his oral-motor strength with blowing and sucking activities, but his low muscle tone seemed as pronounced as ever.
On to his third birthday party, where he didn’t have the strength to blow out his own birthday candles. I made an appointment for a Speech and Language Assessment. Now, only part of his articulation difficulties are directly caused by the pacifier, but using the dummy has certainly contributed. With tongue thrust, swallowing difficulties and weakness of the orofacial muscles, it became clear that intensive efforts would be needed to help with his articulation. The dummy had to go- immediately, and speech therapy sessions twice a week are the order of the day.
Cubby didn’t give it up quite so easily as his big sister, but he hasn’t made mention of his dummy in a few days. I’m confident throwing them all out once and for all. It is interesting sitting through another set of speech therapy sessions with another child, and working on completely different problems.
I’ve chastised myself for my leniency with the pacifier this time, just as I berated myself for the strictness that contributed to Pudding’s pica and sensory seeking. But really, even the wisdom of Ms. Angelou wouldn’t help here.
When it comes to raising kids with different needs, when you know different, you do different. Whether the outcome is the same or completely different, trying doesn’t make you a dummy, which is good, because we don’t need any more of those in our house.