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At what point should you start worrying about your pre-schooler's academic abilities?

Erin Zammett Ruddy

True story: The other day Alex and I were chatting and somehow the letter J came up so I casually asked, “What sound does the letter J make?” He thought for a minute, then looked me dead in the eye and said…….….“TV?” D’oh!

Honestly, I feel like he was joking or, more likely, just not focusing. He knows all of his letters and most of their corresponding sounds. I think. I don’t quiz him on that stuff too often (I quiz him on more pertinent things, like the difference between arugula and baby spinach). Actually, I thought his answer was hilarious because it reminded me of Chris Rock’s standup about crappy parents not teaching their kids. “What’s four plus four? Jell-O.” Of course when this little episode is lumped in with all the other information I’ve been gleaning lately, I am starting to get concerned….

As we’ve discussed, Alex’s listening skills are not the best right now. And the ants in his pants seem to have settled in for the long haul. He can write his name but the e is usually effed up and the x floats somewhere off in space. When I was discussing all of this with his teachers at pick up the other day—in a chatty, eh-he’s-still-a-good-kid kind of way—they stopped and said, “but man can he hit a baseball.” They proceeded to tell me how awesome he is in gym and how serious he takes all of his sports. I’m glad the kid is athletic but I’d also like him to be academic (I mean, he’s at least got to be able to sign his name for his fans!). Am I worried? No. He just turned four. But I also don’t want to ignore any possible red flags. Particularly since he’s going to be very young for his grade (he’ll be starting kindergarten two days after turning five next year).

The other issue playing into this parenting panic attack: Alex has a lisp (or as he would say, a “lithsp”). It’s not terrible—a lot of people don’t even notice—and you can understand 95 percent of what he says, but while it seems cute and insignificant now, it won’t be forever. And so after listening to him call all of his friends named Jack Zack for a few years, we’re having him evaluated by the school district to see if he’ll qualify for speech. When I went to the special education office last week I was super impressed—and intimidated. They’re going to evaluate him not just for speech, but everything (apparently it’s all interconnected so they like to cover all their bases). Now I’m torn: Part of me hopes they say he’s perfectly on track and the other part hopes they discover something for us to work on, something to explain some of his wild-ass behavior.

Am I a helicopter mom who wants my kid to be perfect and so I’m subjecting him to unnecessary intervention? No. In fact, I told the director that I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time or take away from a kid who might really need services. I know Alex is smart and advanced in so many ways (you should hear him explain the difference between arugula and baby spinach!). But I am a mom who doesn’t want her kid to have a lisp forever. And having him evaluated can’t hurt. (If he doesn’t qualify, I will look into private speech lessons). We are also working with him to get him to write his name confidently because, well, as Chris Rock also said, “That ain’t right.”

At what point did you start thinking about all of this stuff? Do you ever wonder how your kid measures up to other kids? Have you dealt with early intervention? Speech? Lisps? Let's discuss. And if you think I'm nuts, feel free to say so.