My daughter, Chloe, has language delays. Today, at 18 years old, she is still considered mostly nonverbal. However, people who slow down and take the time and effort to get to know her—and listen to her—can understand much of what she has to say. Whether it’s spoken with her mouth or made with a simple gesture.
Chloe is able to mimic and attempt spoken language. When she’s motivated. Her spoken words can be understood by a good listener given a clear context. She uses verbalizations and sign language. As well as gestures, pictures and a communication (AAC) device, to get her point across.
Chloe has much to say and makes many efforts to communicate to those willing to listen.
But often, her attempts fail and the message isn’t received or understood. What is the key to her communication being successful?
The key is a good, attentive listener.
A good attentive listener listens with more than their ears. They wait and take into account the context and the surroundings. They get Chloe’s perspective. And they pay attention to what Chloe is attending to. She will often communicate through a stuffed animal, a video she’s watching or a book she’s reading.
Many times her use of the stuffed animal or the iPad to communicate is misread. Seen as her being off-task or uninterested. But in reality, it is a very deliberate effort to relay a message. A good attentive listener will pick up on Chloe’s creative attempts and put words to them.
I’m often amazed at her creativity and effort when communing with me and others. Recently she got a new stuffed animal. Chloe introduced the new stuffed animal to her well-loved favorite doggy, Butterscotch. She wanted to tell me that the two dogs were now friends. She crawled off to her closet, and dug through her bookshelf. Finally finding the book she needed she flipped to the right page. Then scanned down to the right paragraph, pointed to the word “friend” and locked eyes with me. Did I understand enough to vocalize the message for her?
“Oh, the dogs are going to be good friends,” I said aloud for her.
And she nodded several times in agreement as she held the two dogs together.
That was a lot of effort and time just to say the word friend. But I’ve learned that it’s important for Chloe to relate to her messages on a level other than just plain words or signs. That conversation above might have been so much easier to simply sign friend. Or to type the word on her communication device or iPad. But Chloe needed to relate to the word and the message by bringing in a book that she was familiar with…a book that talked about friends.
How many times have I (and others) assumed she had nothing to say? Or that she didn’t want to talk because she turned her back and crawled away?
I marvel at the complexity and beauty of her communication.
Read other parent stories about their child and non-verbal communication skills.