What was your first word? More than likely it’s collecting dust in a baby book somewhere in your mom’s attic. Ironically, my parents fought over which of them came first, “momma” or “dada,” like I was already “taking sides” at tender age of 1. Unfortunately, not every parent gets to celebrate that milestone. When my son missed his first word milestone I felt like something had been taken from me. I would stare blankly at the ‘first word’ section in his baby book and think about every other word I would be missing out on.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of worry. How would I know whether my child was happy? That he loved me? That he was hurt? That he was safe? He wouldn’t be able to ‘check in’ with me and tell me he was ok. He wouldn’t be able to tell me why he was upset or what it was that upset him. He wouldn’t even be able to tell me what his favorite color was.
“It was my sons first day of school and a bus picked him up. I had already met the bus driver prior to this day and was well aware of the protocol for applying his safety harness. Even though I had planned this day to the last detail and trusted that my son would be well taken care of, I still had an overwhelming sense of worry as he entered those yellow doors. I did not know what would happen to him once he left my side, and the worst part is that he couldn’t tell me.”
However, what I soon realized was that although my son had lost the ability to verbalize his feelings, he didn’t lose the ability to communicate them. Although he does not speak, in the traditional sense, he and I understand each other; his actions speak volumes. I know what he wants for breakfast based on a simple look. He scrunches up his nose and turns a shoulder when he’s upset and his smile lights up the room when he’s happy. I know he will only eat dino chicken nuggets and that he loves to swing. I didn’t learn those things because he told me; I learned them because he showed me.
Being a parent of a non-verbal child isn’t easy, but just as anything else, you adapt. I may never hear the “but why? Why? Why? Why?” of a jabbering toddler or the uncanny dialect of an angst-filled teen, but I still hear slamming doors, stomping feet, and the pure laughter and joy of a child. Instead of listening intently for something I would never hear, I now watch closely for the things he wants to say and we work with him to help him gain his voice.