Baby not mimicing...
April 9, 2013 9:01 AM   Subscribe

My first parenting question! Baby Bibbit is 11 months old. He does not mimic. Ever. Is this a problem?

We have been unable to get our son to do simple things like wave or clap his hands, no matter how we show him (doing it ourselves, moving his hands, doing a combination). This is a kind of a pattern with him - he just has never mimiced us. He loves it when we do things like clap, make faces, dance, etc. FOR him, but he never tries any of it himself.

He's a generally happy, healthy baby. He's met most of his milestones fine so far except for language - he's making a lot of noise but still a lot of "ahhh" and "ennnnh" and not so much "mama", "dada" and "baba." And really no connection to who mama or dada is. I can't get him to mimic sounds, either. I say "Can you say mama?" and he'll just stop whatever he's doing and stare and smile. So it's like he's observing, and loving the attention, but not willing to give any of it back. The pediatrician, at his 9 month appointment, said my description of his language ability at that time would be considered "low normal."

Both my husband and I work full time, so he spends close to 10 hours at an in-home daycare where he's the youngest of about 6-7 kids ranging from 1 to 3 years. He's our only child so we spend a lot of time focusing on him. I don't know whether this is something to worry about.
posted by bibbit to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you stick out your tongue at him, will he do it back? I think waving is sometimes too much coordination at first--have you tried just facial stuff? Do the day care people spend 1 on 1 time with him? Have you asked them to do so?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:08 AM on April 9, 2013

Best answer: I always tell parents, if you have any doubts, call your area's Early Intervention Services and set up an evaluation. (Link to IL's EI page.)

It doesn't hurt to do it.

And if your child does need assistance, great! Now you can get it!

And if your doesn't need assistance, all the better!

But there is nothing to lose by doing it.

And the evaluations are more comprehensive than a regular doctor's visit.
posted by zizzle at 9:11 AM on April 9, 2013 [22 favorites]

The CDC has some resources on developmental milestones. Given that there is a good bit of variability in how kids develop your child may be perfectly fine. But in the event that there is a problem early intervention can really help, so if you are concerned don't hesitate to get an evaluation as zizzle suggests.
posted by TedW at 9:18 AM on April 9, 2013

Agreeing with TedW and zizzle that this might just be some variability in development, but I am a big believer in following your instincts when you as a parent feel like something just isn't quite right. You're noticing some social differences (i.e., not copying) and some langauge differences (i.e., not having special understanding of "Mama" and "Dada"), so a couple of areas rather than just one little thing. Again, it might be nothing, but I think it's also worth taking a look at.

Getting early intervention for things can have a huge impact, so catching things a little early rather than waiting is better. I would also recommend getting an Early Intervention evaluation rather than just asking your pediatrician. They have more time and more sensitive testing techniques that might catch something that would be missed otherwise. You could also request an evaluation by a developmental pediatrician who has some additional training and expertise in looking specifically for places where development might be going off track.
posted by goggie at 9:26 AM on April 9, 2013

Yes, zizzle. The other thing about having an early intervention evaluation is that even if they say things are basically fun but maybe he's on the low end of normal, or something - then that's documentation that you can hang on to. And then later if you're still concerned you're not starting from scratch - there's a documented history that your concerns started early, that he was fine in these areas but maybe low-average in others, and that may be valuable to you later.

I don't work with young kids anymore but when I did (as part of a research study on developmental delays) we tended to recommend that if people were unsure, they go ahead and get on a waitlist for evaluation. Typically there is a waitlist, so you might as well get on it - if you no longer need it by the time your turn comes around, no harm no foul, someone else will be happy to jump up the list.
posted by Stacey at 9:29 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Slow to talk could mean nothing, but it could also mean a muscular/coordination issue or a hearing issue. (my kid has a mild muscular disability; he was also slow to talk/eat neatly/use utensils).

Has he had his hearing checked? Does he drool all the time (not just when teething)? Does he have trouble chewing/swallowing? Those are the kinds of questions you are likely to be asked.

And if he does have something, there are so many resources; physical and occupational therapy (which my kid did) can help a lot.

But you really need someone to do the tests before you can know anything.
posted by emjaybee at 9:33 AM on April 9, 2013

Early intervention evaluations are free in every state I know of, and it will tell you a lot about your baby's development, if if it's "normal". Make the call to the EI service linked above (or your state EI office if you're not actually in IL).
posted by anastasiav at 9:49 AM on April 9, 2013

A) Boys tend to talk later than girls, so it doesn't look worrisome to me yet.
B) He sounds bright. Bright kids sometimes do quirky things for reasons having nothing to do with impairment.

My older son talked late. I understood his grunts and gestures so he had no reason to talk. I did force the issue by sticking him in preschool and he is ASD, so he did have some challenges. But one reason he refused to move on from two word phrases to actual sentences was because he couldn't express himself as well as his college educated mother which made him feel stupid. But somehow two word phrases (and miming, made-up words and other convoluted communication) was still fine. That's two-year-old logic for you.

When he was old enough to explain his point of view I learned that a lot of his deer-in-the-headlights looks at me were not lack of comprehension. It was more like "God, mom, you are an idiot. How many times do I have to tell you what that letter is before you remember it?"

You could do some reading on bright kids while also having him checked for problems, just to cover all your bases.
posted by Michele in California at 9:51 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like the IE eval could make you feel better. But just as a data point, my second kid, while highly intelligent, has never been interested in mimicking. I could "ma ma" at her all day and she'd just smile, and could certainly never be arsed to mimic a motion.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:56 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: At his 9-month appointment, the pediatrician did mention early intervention in the "I think he's fine, but I'm happy to refer you" sort of conversation. I will look into the services and see what we've got.

This is perhaps a derail/stupid question, but for EI, I just call and they'll tell me what to do? I don't need to get a referral from my doctor or anything? Our 1-year appointment is in 4 weeks so I can talk to the doctor then if I need to.
posted by bibbit at 9:58 AM on April 9, 2013

Hm, this isn't a lot of information to go on, so my advice will be generic. You don't mention what kinds of babbling he does. Does he babble with a variety of sounds and combinations? For example, when vocalizing, does he do things like "badabooodeee", or is it all vowels?

IANYSLP, so I it's not really appropriate for me to comment more than this: There are many reasons why your child might not appear to be imitating... hearing, developmental variation, muscle coordination, etc. etc. etc. And when I was working with little ones, I would often get questions like this from friends and my response was the same then as it is now to you: If you aren't sure, get an evaluation. If your little one will be seeing the pediatrician for the one-year check-up, ask the doctor what he/she thinks. They have a checklist of milestones that they should review at that checkup, and if they feel it's necessary, they can make the referral to early intervention (a.k.a. EI) for an evaluation. In light of the "low-normal" communication at his 9mos checkup, I would ask for a referral to an audiologist to rule-out hearing loss (not the "hearing scans" they do in the doctor's office, but a real, full on hearing evaluation done by an audiologist.)

Good luck, and I hope everything turns out okay. You're already doing the right thing by keeping an eye on your son's development! :)

EDIT: Just saw your update. EI varies by state, but I think parents can self-refer, so if you wan to contact an EI agency on your own you can do that. They can guide you from there.
posted by absquatulate at 10:02 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi again, bibbit!

I had EI for my older child (hence why I now always recommend it --- I wish we had done it sooner) and have an eval scheduled for my daughter next week (just because my son is not a good blueprint of normal development and it would help me relax to have it done).

What happened when I did this in MA was this:

1. I called the office for my area and said I wanted to set up an evaluation for my child. I answered some basic questions --- name of child, age, what the concern was, address, etc. I was told when they were scheduling the next month's evaluations and about when I could expect a call back.

2. A week or two later, I received a call about scheduling the evaluation, which was about a month out for my daughter (called at a good time!) and bit longer for my son (called after they had done the next month's schedule) and set up an appointment.

3. The first time around, they came out twice. The first time they came out, they met with my husband sans child to get the parent's take on things. Then they came out again the next week to conduct the evaluation on my son. Since we have already done the EI process before and my daughter is half the age my son was, this time around they are only coming out the one day. Each of these meetings is about two hours. They took our insurance info. and looked at our tax returns (in MA, insurance is required to pick up any costs associated with EI, but we were under the financial limit last time and qualified for free. But no matter what, we would not have had to have paid).

4. After the evaluations, it was determined if services were needed. As they were for my son, we were then put on a waitlist to receive a therapist. That was the most frustrating part as it took maybe 3 months to get him one, and by that point, he was 2.9 years old and had only 3 months of EI eligibility left. But it helped to educate us on other things to do so we could set him up well with the public preschool he is now attending. I am not expecting that my daughter will need services, but you never do know.

We did not need a referral from our doctor for EI. We just decided to do it one day (and I wish we had done it much sooner! I can't stress this enough!)

It's very easy. It's not scary. And they basically play games (which are assessments) with the kid for a few hours. And it's all done in your home. You don't go anywhere.
posted by zizzle at 10:14 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are in the U.S. (looks like Chicago?), early intervention is provided by federal government funding through local school districts. In many places the screening is done by the school district for kids age 3-5, and under-3s are done through Easter Seals or whatever. A parent (by law!) can self-refer their child, but you can also have your doctor refer if you prefer. Self-referring is probably faster. Just call the number and say you want to get your child developmentally screened and can they walk you through the process to set up a screening. Generally the FIRST screening is a comprehensive screening, and then you may be referred back for a second screening in specific areas. If your child is recommended for services, many of those services are provided at no cost to you through federal early childhood funding regardless of parental income; others are covered by insurance. (Rarely you may have to pay if the need for the service is borderline.)

I'm in downstate Illinois and the wait time for early childhood comprehensive screening runs about six weeks around here (can be longer at the start of the school year), because these programs are underfunded and understaffed, so do call today and at least get an appointment set up. We've had a really good experience with early intervention services, and feel free to memail me if you need any help understanding the process/bureaucracy in Illinois, since we've just been going through it ourselves.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:19 AM on April 9, 2013

For developmental screening in my school district, in Illinois, they don't come to your home; you take your child either to Easter Seals or to an early childhood school in the school district for the screening. (My kids think it is the happiest place on earth and always sob when we have to leave.) They CAN do in-home (or in-day-care!) observations/visits if necessary but I've not heard of that in Illinois for first screenings.

We did ask them to send all of their assessments to our pediatrician just to keep her in the loop, but the only thing we actually needed the pediatrician for were setting up a particular type of hearing screening that had to be done at the hospital that needed the doctor's referral, and to sign off on a particular therapy regime that (for whatever reason) required the doctor's recommendation. So it was helpful for the doctor to know what was going on, but she wasn't necessary to get the screenings done.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:25 AM on April 9, 2013

Have u had his hearing checked? You would be surprised at the number of 'developmental difficulties' that are little more than some (easily fixed) fluid in the ear...he might not be hearing your encouragement/actual sounds...try 'sneaking up' on him from behind, making noise. Does he turn to look at you? IANAEarD (but my father was...heard a lot of similar stories)
posted by sexyrobot at 10:33 AM on April 9, 2013

Response by poster: sexyrobot - I know he hears. It is possible that his hearing isn't perfect, and that's something I'll bring to his pediatrician. For the hospital hearing screen they give to all newborns, he did have to have it twice - but we were told it was more "this isn't working right now" than "he failed" the first time.
posted by bibbit at 10:54 AM on April 9, 2013

Re: the hearing thing, if he is prone to ear infections, that could cause some hearing problems and is often connected to a language delay. (For the record, I do not know if your son has a language delay, I am just saying that recurrent ear infections often accompany a language delay. This is a big reason for getting tubes.)
posted by devinemissk at 11:38 AM on April 9, 2013

Try yawning.

Seems to me I read that becomes contagious at about six months.
posted by jamjam at 12:13 PM on April 9, 2013

TL;DR: try sign language.

I could have asked this question about my son, who seems to have problems with low sensory registration and motor planning issues. He didn't mimic us. He didn't babble. At. All. He doesn't give much eye contact (certainly not as much as his big sister). But after intervention, he got his first words out, and now at 2 he's got a great vocabulary and is talking in phrases of a couple words at a time.

We ended up not pulling our hair out during his essentially-not-verbal time by teaching him sign language. Turns out he had the capacity and desire to produce language; he mostly just had trouble getting his mouth to do its speech thing. We used Signing Time videos to teach ourselves and our son, and it was really easy to pick up enough to let him express what he needed to express.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 12:21 PM on April 9, 2013

Tongue sticking out was our son's first mimicking action. That and smiling. (Does he smile back when you smile at him? If he's smiling at you, he learned it from somewhere, right?)
posted by caution live frogs at 12:23 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's hard to navigate all these questions that we run into as parents. I highly recommend getting your son a developmental assessment and also seeing if you can self refer for speech therapy. With my kids, I just thought they had some quirks, but they turned out to have some speech delays and, fortunately, I still got them into therapy early enough to make changes. But early speech therapy can help with mitigating all sorts of potential learning problems - our speech therapist said that it is basically a change to change the way the mind works. She said that early intervention is the best thing and it's better to find out you're wrong than it is to find out you shouldn't have waited. With one of my kids, had we gone sooner, we would not have needed such intense work - my gut told me I was right, but doctors and early childhood educators were telling me my child's speech was okay. It wasn't.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:32 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't comment on the mimicking, but no need for worry regarding words yet. My 3.5 year old son did not talk AT ALL until 26.5 months. Not he only knew 5 - 10 words and most kids his age knew 50-100, but literally no words. No "momma" and "daddy" or "cat" or "woof". Nothing. Sounds yes, but no words or attempts at words.

We asked our pediatrician at 18 months about this and he said that absent some other sign of a problem that our son did not have (ie potential early autism warnings or signs), the doctor doesn't worry about no words until kids turn 27 months. We were nervous though so we started early intervention when Little Murrey was 24 months. Yes, he was slow in the verbal department, but like clockwork described by his doctor, he started talking just shy of the 27 month mark.

Early intervention mostly helped us as parents to help Little Murrey communicate more. Turns out, Hubby and I were not requiring Little Murrey to talk and express himself -- we were guessing or anticipating his needs and wants so well that we took away any need for him to say things. Once we parents were properly trained, the words started flowing. Little Murrey is a little chatterbox now and by all accounts, pretty darned bright!

I say go for an early intervention assessment. If all is normal, no harm done and peace of mind achieved.
posted by murrey at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2013

My son was referred to EI at ten months old, not for verbal concerns, but for gross motor concerns. He wasn't sitting up well, he wasn't crawling. He was still technically within the umbrella of "normal" but he had been getting farther and farther from the 50th%ile curve, and my doctor said "I don't like it. I just don't like it, and I'm done going home and being vaguely worried about this kid."

It turned out, when we got him into EI, that he had some major and critical developmental processes that hadn't taken place, but that were very subtle. We got him over that hump, and he started catching up almost immediately. He's two and a half now, he still gets services but his delays are really hard to notice if you're not a professional evaulator. But I truly believe that if we hadn't gotten him to a therapist as early as we did, we'd be looking at a really different clinical picture today.

Long story short? Get him evaluated. Either the answer will be "He has XYZ delays for which we can do ABC," "He's totally fine, don't worry about it," or "Eeeeuuuunnnnnnh." ALL of those answers contain valuable information, even the last; if he's in a grey area, they'll be able to give you pointers for what to look for that would indicate a need for a re-eval.
posted by KathrynT at 1:07 PM on April 9, 2013

So I'm surprised by your pedi. My son just turned 1, and sounds like yours. He will mimic sticking the tongue out, and occasionally splashing (though that might just be him liking splashing), but he doesn't wave much, or do much other mimicking, and he isn't saying any words yet (no mama, or dada). We asked our pedi and she said that for language, the guideline is 3 words by 18 months, and that at just one year, she was not concerned at all. So at 11 months, I wouldn't be concerned about your kid yet.

But if it will make you feel better, try the EI thing.
posted by katers890 at 2:43 PM on April 9, 2013

Response by poster: Just to give an update, we did decide to get my son evaluated by EI. I have a call into the service and am waiting patiently for the next step, as I know this could take awhile. Thanks for all the input! I suspect he'll be determined to be just fine, and just have a personality that is way more observant than active, and I'll feel silly, but at least I'll know.
posted by bibbit at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

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