If She Had the Words…

I’m usually “that person” people turn to when they just want someone to listen. I’m told that I’m a really good listener. I enjoy listening. But with Lia, I’m a talker.

I talk to Lia because doing so seems to keep her entertained and engaged – except of course when she’s not in the mood to hear it, and then I mostly shut up.

When I’m talking to her, she responds as much as she can, or as much as she’s inclined. Although she continues to be classified as “nonverbal”, she has developed a limited (but growing) vocabulary of words and phrases she uses when trying to communicate with those who care for her. When addressed by others, she has a tendency to remain silent, or she limits her responses to “yes” or “no”.

I learned early in our relationship that Lia understands a lot more than she can communicate. She listens intently whenever there’s a conversation occurring near her. She listens and she learns.

I hate to admit this, but before I realized her capabilities, there was a little lot of “baby talk” coming out of my mouth. I am so ashamed. Her parents didn’t even speak to her that way. As an instructor I drilled age-appropriate patient communication into my students just as my instructors had for me. And yet, I failed her. Just because she’s so cute, and precious, and developmentally…

These days, I speak to her just as I would any other child her age. The subject matter may be a bit different, but I try to stick to an adult-ish tone, even when I’m pretending to speak to an imaginary friend using a toy phone, or playing dodge when dishes from the play kitchen are lovingly hurled at my head. In return, she rewards me by trying to use her words where a grunt or a gesture once sufficed. That’s progress, and we are elated that she seems to be more interested in talking lately, even if she gets a little frustrated when we struggle to translate her Lia-speak and fail.

When I watch Lia, and it’s so obvious that she’s thinking and processing the world she lives in, I can’t help wondering what she would say to us if she had the words to fully express her thoughts and desires.

Would she still ask for one certain food over and over, or would she ask for something else because she knows what to call it? Would she tell us that she really isn’t all that keen on pinks and purples, and that orange is her most favorite color in the whole world? Would she voice resentment or tolerance for the mistakes we’ve made with her? Would she say she appreciates our efforts, or would she ask why we aren’t doing more? Would she tell us about the things that make her fearful? Would she describe how certain sounds and smells make her feel giddy or agitated? Would she tell us what makes her happy and what makes her sad? Would she tell me she prefers that I not try to sing? What, I wonder, would she say – if she had the words?

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