Autism Parenting: Why ALL Forms of Communication are Awesome
“Does he talk, does he say anything at all?”
“Does he have any more words yet?”
I remember a mum at a special needs playgroup saying to me once, “I’m just desperate to hear her voice and hear her say mummy. Can you imagine not hearing that from one of your kids?”
Yes, yes I can.
But I think that mum made a fundamental mistake in her statement. Just because her daughter doesn’t talk, it doesn’t necessarily follow that she doesn’t have a voice.
David has autism and, no, he doesn’t say any actual words. He uses makaton sign language most of the time. He sometimes uses PECS which is a series of picture cards to form sentences and he often vocalizes with both of these. Without sign or PECS it would be extremely difficult for anyone to understand what he was saying. But trust me, my son has a voice.
He tells me when he wants something and tells me when he doesn’t. He tells me when he’s having fun and when he’s distressed. And he’s more likely to sign and give an effort to say daddy than mummy. After all, why request me? I’m always here.
About a year ago David’s signing vocabulary started to expand far beyond the 20 or so words he knew that mostly related to asking for his favourite food items. He started signing ‘swing’ in the garden and ‘house’ when it was time for home.
One particular afternoon I was getting him out the car after returning home from his specialist nursery. He grabbed me tight as I went to release him from the car seat. I took the opportunity for a hug and said ‘hug’ as I squeezed him awkwardly. I went to get him out for a second time and he grabbed me again. This time I backed up and signed and said ‘hug’. Then I asked him what he wanted. David signed hug for the first time. I nearly cried. I gave him such praise and he giggled hugely as I nearly crushed him. We continued signing and hugging for at least two minutes if not more. Eventually, my daughter who sat on the other side of the seat, started requesting hugs too so we went into the house.
I think David’s got a great voice. A baby has to hear hundreds of repetitions of words to pick up them up. Everywhere they go, babies are listening and adding to their words lists. Imagine, though, that the baby didn’t hear any of those words because they weren’t engaged with them. David’s had to pick up sign via a much shorter number of repetitions, just like hug above, because it’s not happening everywhere. No one signs at the shops, in the playground nor most other places we go. We don’t even all sign to each other in the house, but that hasn’t stopped him.
David may not say many words but we are working with him to help him say more. We have a great speech and language therapist that works with him and us. He will ‘fit in’ more if he talks, but even when he is older he could be like the other 25% of individuals with autism who are non verbal. Talking is not the be all and end all. He understands situations and expresses his opinions. I was far more happy with his understanding and desire to sign and have a hug that I am about his odd attempt to say mummy. That’s not even considering the progress he’s made with his receptive language (the language he receives) such as following instructions.
You know, words and talks each score nine in a game of scrabble. Voice will score you 10 points. Well I’d happily give David 10/10 for his voice and the efforts he puts in to use it whilst coping with everything else everyday, whether he manages to ‘talk’ or has any new ‘words’ or not.