My daughter is mostly nonverbal. Those who know her best can usually understand what she is “saying” by watching her hand gestures and what she’s pointing at. She uses some sign language. She sometimes types what it is she’s saying. And she also has a communication device that she uses.
Her communication device is the size of an iPad. It is housed in a case with external speakers so people can hear her when she’s talking. She has a mount that attaches to her wheelchair to hold the device in front of her within arms’ reach. She can easily reach it to type in whatever it is she wants to say.
Using her communication device has never been her favorite thing. She is really laid back and usually doesn’t necessarily care if you know what she’s saying or not. But lately, she’s gotten really good at using her device in public and in many different environments. She has become especially comfortable with greeting people when she sees them.
“Good morning!” she will say to friends and teachers at school.
“Hi!” she says to strangers at the doctor’s office.
“Good afternoon!” she announces when someone gets on the elevator with us.
It’s exciting that she is finally so comfortable using her device. It’s also exciting that she wants to greet people.
However, there are many times it is as though she is talking to a wall. Even when she repeats and repeats her greeting, people don’t respond. Even when she repeats, and touches the arm of the person she’s speaking to, they don’t seem to notice that she is talking to them. It’s as though they can’t hear her words.
Even when it’s in an otherwise quiet room… even when it’s just my daughter, one person, and me in the room, they still don’t take notice that she is speaking.
How long do you think my daughter will continue greeting people if no one responds to her?
Should I explain every time that she is talking to them? Do I teach my daughter to touch the person’s arm to get their attention and then point to her device and repeat her greeting? Do I attach a big yellow sign to the back of her device labeling it as a communication device and asking people to listen?
Or do I scream from the mountaintops to people everywhere to wake up to the world around them? Sometimes people look different on the outside. Sometimes people communicate differently. And we should be giving people the benefit of the doubt. Look at people. Slow down and even stop! Look people in the eyes, listen with your ears, and with your eyes. See if people are “talking” to you.
She’s talking to you. Please, please listen. And honor her by responding in kind.
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.