Language is important to me. Between writing, speaking, and debate, I always had a fondness for words. The use of verbiage to impart emotion, information, and understanding is, in my opinion, extremely important.
When my son started to miss speaking milestones, I became concerned. It trumped any other delays he seemed to be experiencing at the time. I didn’t care about sitting or walking or even holding a crayon. To me, the lack of a simple “da da” was the proverbial end of the world. I couldn’t fathom it.
That was many years ago and, today at ten, he still hasn’t given a simple “da da” on purpose. He has zero verbal communication. His receptive language (the ability to understand) has gotten much better. Yet his vocal output is all put non-existent.
So…end of the world? Nah.
Don’t get me wrong, life would be easier for us at times if he could say, “My foot hurts” or “I don’t want to go to the park.” I would be aware of his deeper feelings and know how the ways in which the world affects him more. Those profound emotions that are easier said than demonstrated remain locked away in many cases and, full disclosure, that can be hard to accept sometimes.
That said, it is far from the end of any world. In fact, my non-verbal son has taught be a form of communication that has come in handier than I ever dreamed.
Lucas uses his communication device to tap “apple juice” or “ipad” at times in order to help me understand his basic wants and needs. Yet, that device isn’t always useful for some things. Because of that, we rely on other ways to “talk” in a non-traditional sense.
I know that many speech teachers and language experts would lambaste me for this, but we don’t always use the universally agreed upon signs to communicate with each other. In many cases, my hand signals are more about pantomiming to show him what I am talking about.
For example, if you want your friend to “beer” you from across the room, you take your hand and make a cupped drinking motion for him or her to see. They toss you the can, you swig it back, and life is good.
If I think Lucas wants a drink, I will do the same thing. Across the room, cupped drinking motion while looking him in the eyes. Nine times out of ten, he will double tap his chest as if to say, “Yeah, fam. Beer me.”
In hindsight, it’s silly to think of how dire I felt a life without language could be considering that so much of our daily interactions in the world are non-verbal. It could be an agitated expression and exaggerated hand toss to other drivers on the road in order to show them that you, just like them, don’t know what the dipstick in front of you is doing with that turning signal on for the past four miles. Maybe it’s a sympathetic face to a friend across the room having their ear chewed off about random nonsense from an annoying acquaintance. Maybe it’s even a soundless animated GIF used to reply to a Tweet. At the end of the day, none of these things need words. We forget about how often speechless responses spring up.
What I love the most about my non-verbal discussions with Lucas are the times these off-the-cuff physical expressions of language turn into inside jokes. One of my favorite times that happened was about two years ago. He was persistent about being given his electronic toy while I struggled to get his shoes on, I stepped back and put up one hand in a halting manner while yelling out, in a high pitched voice, “Waaaait!”
And he lost it. He thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen. Millions of well-thought out “dad jokes” that my neuro-typical daughter returned a non-verbal annoyed face to didn’t match up to this one inexplicably hilarious motion for my son.
Our most recent example is the long-S stop. Again, while putting on his sweet high-tops, Lucas wanted to run elsewhere. I held my hand up in front of him and began waving my arm back and forth while hissing like a snake.
That’s all it took. He screamed out in laughter as I poked his belly at the end. Since that day, he will randomly take my hand and begin waving it back and forth for me as if to say, “Yo. Do the stop thing.” So I do.
We created that without words. He told me he loves it without words. He has me do it again and again without words.
In the end, limitations are only limitations if you let them limit you. I accept that a lack of language may make certain situations a bit more challenging, but it doesn’t make them impossible. When you love someone, nothing is impossible. You make things work and that’s what we do. We make them work.