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!