My son has learning difficulties, a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis and classic non-verbal autism. At seven years and six months he has no spoken language.

According to all the professionals and specialists he has severe communication difficulties. 

What we often forget though is that speech is just a tiny part of communicating. 

If you tune into my son and learn how he DOES communicate it is truly astounding how adept he is at getting his message across. 

What we all need to remember is that communicating is as much about learning to listen to someone else as it is getting our own message across. 

Even a child with severe communication difficulties can communicate if WE tune in properly.

 

Here are seven ways my son communicates with me.

1. What is he looking at?

Eye contact is not something I get often but by following what his eyes are focussed on I can often find a way to understand him. 

Two nights ago he was very distressed about something. By following his eyes, I was able to understand it was an open door that he found so distressing and I was able to close it for him.

 

2. Where is he going?

Since he was able to crawl at 12 months and walk at age three he has used his physical abilities to get somewhere to communicate. He is rather skilled at escaping and so one day I followed him as he walked outside only to find he had stopped at a bush half a mile away from home.

He had no way of communicating verbally that he longed for the sensory input of feeling some leaves so he just used his physical ability to take himself to it instead. 

 

3. What has he put on his iPad? 

Isaac loves google images and has lots of saved searches on his memory. We never delete these as he likes to go back to the same ones over and over, mostly pictures of hand dryers and lifts!

On Saturday he brought his iPad over and sat on my knee to share something with me. It was a picture of his favourite shopping centre and he used that to show me his desire to go on a train trip to see the lifts at the shops. 

 

4. What is he pointing to?

My son, like almost all children, has a favourite toy. It is a small plastic character holding a small plastic ice-cream. When he loses this toy he finds any plastic toy he can and points to its hand.

Though many people would have no idea what he means by this, he knows mum understands. The more you know someone the more you get to tune in and know them deeply. 

 

5. What noises is he making?

He may be non-verbal but he does make noises. We have settled, happy noises, and 'I am not happy' noises. We have the 'I am not happy noises' whenever the car reverses, we go a different route, he is taken away from lifts, he does not get his own way or he gets his nappy changed.

We have screams, laughter, sneezes, vocalisations and ahhhh and oohs when life is good. Non-verbal does not mean quiet! Silence for us just means he is poorly!

 

6. How is he behaving?

It is pretty obvious that a kicking, fighting, screaming child is not a happy one. There really is no need for words at such moments of frustration.

Equally when he sits himself on my knee and touches me his actions say much more than words ever could. Is he biting? Is he flapping? Is he excitedly dancing round in circles?

Behaviour is one of the most fundamental ways anyone communicates. He may not be able to speak but slamming doors, stamping and yelling get his point across alright!

 

7. What can I hear?

Can I hear water? Chances are he has decided he wants a bath and has worked out how to turn the taps on!

Can I hear tapping? I would put money on the fact he is sitting on a windowsill tapping the window at something he has seen outside.

Is he giggling loudly? That will mean he has climbed in my bed and is laughing at the thought of hiding under the duvet again.

If we are out anywhere and he hears a lift or hand dryer I can guarantee that is where I will find him. Of course the most common thing I hear is his iPad at full blast! Why do children think this is the only volume technology can be played on? I hear lift doors open and close in my sleep!

 

One day as I was cooking dinner and my son was sitting at the table I looked over at what he was doing.

He was on google street map and had taken himself to the nearby fast food drive-through!

I suddenly realised the dinner was burning and he was trying to tell me we should all go for burger and chips! So we did...

Communication difficulty? Sure he can't talk or read or write… but he is smart and he never ceases to amaze me with the inventive and humorous ways he finds to communicate without language. 

 

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