Choosing To Listen

For many of us, the struggle to be heard can be the most frustrating thing we encounter. We’ve all experienced it and we’ve all winced at the annoyance it causes, mostly due to the other person’s arrogance.

Hey. Listen. Your shoes…

I know. You told me.

No. Your shoes are…

I know. You said it already. You saw them on TV. I know.

No, just listen…

I know. The guy in the show. He wears shoes that look like…

No! Just listen to me!

Fine. Whatever. You told me already, but what?

Your shoes are on fire.

Ugh. Just writing it gives me anxiety pain. You want to grab them by the face and force them to hear you out. Now don’t get me wrong, maybe you contributed to it. Maybe you told one too many stories about the footwear on Grey’s Anatomy or something. Still, it’s rude and can send even the calmest of us into a panic.

I can’t imagine how it must be for a non-verbal person like my son. Lucas’s intentions were guessed at for years before we really started opening the doors of communication. People would say, “Oh, he must be tired” long after that type of assumption should stop being made for a person. He knew what he wanted, but didn’t have the means to tell us. We guessed.

Of course, he spent many days proving certain assumptions right. Without words, Lucas led you places. It’s something he still does today. In moments of usual hunger, he would take your hand, no matter how busy you were at the time, and lead you to the pantry. When you’d say, “No food right now. Dinner soon,” he understood, but would whine before stubbornly trying to lead you again.

It could be frustrating for him, but also frustrating for us. After all, there’s nothing more irritating than having your hand ripped from a keyboard, game control, or razor in order to be taken to the bag of Pirate Booty you said no to ten minutes ago.

Today, Lucas doesn’t do much leading but, when he does, it’s usually for food. That’s why, last week, when he was standing before me in the kitchen, I kind of knew what was up.

What do you want, bud? Why are you staring at me like that?

Chill as hell, my soon-to-be ten-year-old stood stoically with his gaze fixed in my direction. I didn’t know what he wanted, assumed it was a snack, but figured it would be a good learning experience. I directed him to his communication device through a nod of my head towards it. With my hands deep into a sink of dishes, it seemed like the best option.

To my surprise, he acknowledged my gesture to his A.A.C. iPad by looking over at it, but didn’t, however, go to it. He stood there. I have to be honest, it annoyed me a bit.

I knew that he was becoming quite adept at his device and was aware of how to ask for the wants in his life. If he wasn’t using it, it had to be because he knew I’d say no. Everything else he has ever asked for so far has been listed among his million pressable word buttons.

Instead, he outstretched his hand and tried to put it into my soapy one. For a brief moment, I was ready to send him away, fully knowing ahead of time where we were going. I didn’t have time for this almost-definite quest for treats.

Of course, I felt bad for my consideration to blow him off, so I didn’t. Besides, I wanted to see where this was going. As inconvenient as his truth was, I needed to know what it was and why he couldn’t just use his device to ask. I let him take my hand and prepared to turn down a bag of something salty he wanted to put into his still-digesting-dinner belly.

He grasped my hand…and took me out of the kitchen.

Surprised, I walked along as he took me to the big white wall in the dining room. If we were in some sci-fi fantasy film, a magical doorway would have appeared to lead us to Narnia or something. Instead, the wall remained still and Lucas tapped it twice with his hand while staring at me.

And I got it. I knew what he wanted.


In January, when I moved into this house, I broke out the old projector that had been packed away for years. Rather than set up a dining room that we had no need for yet, I left the wall open so that we could play movies and TV shows at movie-theater size on the wall. It was a big hit for a few weeks, but had faded a bit as the house started to come together. I hadn’t thought much about it these past two weeks or so.

But Lucas had. He remembered it. He liked it. He wanted it. And this strange new form of entertainment had no button on his device to share his desire for it.

I mean, technically, it’s a television. He knows “television”, but it’s not really a television. It’s a wall with a giant image on it. He didn’t know how to ask for it and did the only thing he could think of to get it. He brought me to a commonly understood landmark and I commonly understood.

I thought about how easy it would have been to miss that moment.  How I could have had a fire-shoes interaction with my boy and left him wordless, frustrated, and alone. It would have been awful.

Granted, things like that may happen when your child doesn’t have language.  You miss wants and cross signals. Every parent goes through that, even if their child does have words. Whether it’s their behaviors, actions, or doing things that require “reading between the lines”, kids can be tough to decipher and missing their point can sometimes be unavoidable. In this case, though, it would have been more tragic than ever because I could have understood him, but a condescending assumption would have chosen not to.

It’s hard to sometimes drop everything to listen to your kid, especially when you’re convinced that what they want to tell you is pointless. Nine times out of ten, it might be. That one time, though, is all I need to remember to prevent me from pushing them away. I’d rather take his hand and let him lead me to the wall than putting them up around me.



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