More than Words

26
Feb

More than Words

I recently read the book “Growing Girls: The Mother of All Adventures”. Jeanne Marie Laskas, a mother of two little girls adopted from China, writes this story. What an adventurous life this family has, and what a fun book to read. Her writing style has kept me interested in what is going to happen next, as I’ve laughed with her and cried with her. She also adds an educational component, helping her readers understand the parents’ perspective of dealing with issues of adoption and language development. Her youngest daughter has apraxia, and portions of the story discuss the family’s journey to helping her daughter develop speech. Here is a segment from her book:

“She managed to communicate this wish to me with her eyes and her broken sounds and both of her arms gripping my thigh with joy. So much of language has nothing to do with words. Perhaps this is why I’m not more worried about Sasha’s speech disorder: I forget. Her lack of intelligible talking doesn’t get in the way of my knowing her, or loving her, or enjoying her company. When it comes to sociability, a language disorder is a remarkably surmountable obstacle.”

What I love about this is that she realizes who her child is, and what she can accomplish does not rely on her developing words. In fact, she is able to communicate very well with nonverbal intonations, body language, posturing, facial expressions, gaze shifting, and gestures. Words would not make her daughter different; she would have the same personality, she would like the same things, she would still be the same little girl – with words. This mom understands that non-verbal communication is the foundation and meaning of her daughter’s language and ability to share experiences. Adding words would be helpful, but the foundations have already been laid.

It is evident that the author above enjoys sharing her family with her readers, as I have loved sharing my son’s development as well. Many of you have joined me on my journey through his infant development. He is now 18 months old. The most significant thing I’ve noticed about my son right now is not his speech (although the few words he has are fun to hear!), but his ability to communicate through all the other modes of communication. If he doesn’t like what his sisters are doing, he’ll come running up to me babbling on and on with a disgruntled voice, scrunched up face, pointing at his sisters, and referencing between them and me. I know he’s mad, and I know what they are doing is making him mad. He’s a tattletale; and when he tattles, he uses no coherent words but can still get the point across.

Unfortunately, words are emphasized in our society so heavily. As soon as a child is diagnosed with autism, parents are immediately encouraged to put their child in speech therapy to help the child speak. Above is a mother who, I believe, would scream, “Develop the nonverbal communication first, then words! This is the essence of human communication!” If you are a parent of a child who is delayed developmentally, you must fill in the holes of your child’s development and help him/her get back on the developmental pathway in the right order!

Comments

  • February 26, 2013

    I don’t disagree Michelle. I think my son speaks quite eloquently even without words. However, other children on the playground, or preschool teachers with busy classrooms can find it difficult to pause, watch and interpret those messages. That can be extremely frustrating for a child who believes they have communicated effectively. While family may communicate one way, it is important to add words to the mix through speech or AAC.

    – Cathy

  • R. Gale
    February 27, 2013

    I am a clinical psychologist and father of a beautiful 16 month old girl. So much of this article resonates with what I have experienced in both of those roles. Our daughter tells us so much without using any words, and I strongly identify with the quotation above about knowing, loving, and enjoying the company of someone with whom verbal conversation is impossible. Of course we delight in hearnig her develop and use new words, but there would be no foundation upon which to build her verbal vocabulary without the strong non-verbal communication she has developed. It’s so easy to overlook the importance of something we largely ignore or take for granted.

  • Michelle VanderHeide, BSW
    February 27, 2013

    Hi Cathy,
    I agree, it can be especially difficult to slow down and take time to engage a child non-verbally in more distracting and busy settings. It is most important that these strategies are implemented in the home where mom/dad can slow down, engage, and demonstrate the important elements of non-verbal communication. Even in a busy school environment, all kids and teachers will understand the language of non-verbal communication. The non-verbal communication is essential in learning meaningful use of words. However, without learning non-verbal communication first, learning words will only be used for the purpose of echoing, getting needs met (which is very important) or sharing static interests of their own and not for the use of experience sharing communication. In order to develop meaningful, rich communication, non-verbal communication needs to be developed first, but sometimes, short term compensations needs to be put in place in order for the child’s needs to be met. Thanks for your post!

  • Michelle VanderHeide, BSW
    February 27, 2013

    Hi Richard, thanks for your comment. I agree, your daughter is at the perfect age for rich non-verbal communication. What a gift to be able to witness and appreciate the importance of this communication!

  • February 27, 2013

    Hi Cathy,
    I really enjoyed your “More Than Words” article. It is so true, we need to remember that communication as more than words. As a speech-language pathologist, I teach parents of children with autism to help their children to tune into and understand the meaning of the various non-verbal cues (facial expressions, gestures, body language, tone, etc.) we use to communicate. Since approximately only 7% of the meaning of a message is conveyed through our verbal words, children with autism are at a huge disadvantage if they are not aware of, or don’t understand the nonverbal cues/message others are sending. From my experience, if they don’t understand the meaning of these nonverbal messages (lips turned down at the corners = person is sad), they are also less likely to use them to augment their communication. Kudos to you for making others aware of the importance of our gestural language!

  • Michelle VanderHeide, BSW
    February 27, 2013

    Hi Pamela,
    I love hearing that you emphasize the use of non-verbal communication during your speech sessions with your clients. What a wonderful gift you are giving to these kids!

    Thanks for your comment!
    Michelle

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