“I am a bit not full up.”
“I want Santa to bring me a doll and doors for Christmas.”
“I don’t like dreams about monkeys. I like dreams about chocolate buttons.”
“I saw the Moon smile and my daddy said we can do skipping when he cooks the dinner.”
I take my three-year-old niece to pre-school every Monday and hand in hand we have a little chat as we meander slowly down the long path to the door from the car park. Well, when I say we have a chat - she chats, I listen. And I love it. She just babbles about whatever is in her brain and it is brilliant stuff that makes perfect sense in her little world.
My two older children are chatter boxes too and it brings back wonderful memories. They are still full of non-stop natter, but their conversation is more coherent and sophisticated nowadays occasionally littered with the odd malapropism. An example is a recent discussion about whether my mum should get a dog or not that prompted my seven year old to say: “she should get a small dog like a Cockapoo.”
Kids, they do say the funniest things. It is very true.
That is why it is such a marked contrast when you have a non-verbal child. Gabe is four years old, globally delayed across the board, currently has no unifying diagnosis and can’t yet walk or talk.
The lack of walking you can almost get your head around and we are lucky that he bum shuffles so he has some independent mobility, but the lack of speech can often be hard.
The silence at times can be deafening.
- No banter about what to have for lunch.
- No loud tantrums about choice of TV programme.
- No excited chatter about the day's forthcoming events.
- No stream of consciousness as you push him through the streets.
- No retelling of an incident at school.
- No berating a brother or telling tales on a sister who has annoyed him.
If you have a house filled daily with toddler tears and sibling squabbles you might think this sounds like a dream. I hear you. Sometimes I admit it is nice that there is one less to fill the noisy airwaves. But mostly when the shouting or singing is at its loudest in my house and my ears feel like they are about to pop, then these are the times when I'll scoop up my littlest man and whisper a promise:
"One day my son you'll be joining in the fun and I'll never, ever tell you to be quiet."
We do lovely things (amid the chores) – swimming, long walks if the weather is nice, staying in and literally throwing the toy boxes over the floors and playing together. There are giggles and smiles aplenty, but if I let them these days could go by in a complete hush.
He does have a number of words. We’ve heard him utter: “Mummy”, “Daddy”, “Nana” and my favourite when he’s just had enough: “let’s go” (something I myself must say 23 times a day to shepherd three children and a husband). And when the mood takes him he will repeat what you’ve just said – the best being “I love you.” But the moments of noise are infrequent and they take you by surprise. The initial euphoria replaced all too quickly by the tinge of sadness that comes with knowing this is a rare event.
Maybe his little head is full of dialogue and one day soon we’ll get to hear it all. But for now we keep going with the speech therapists’ advice:
- Repeating back any noises he makes.
- Talking to him like he understands.
- Not leaving him out of dinner time games and talking.
- Using Makaton signs wherever we can.
- Making sure we say the word and back it up with an object of reference where appropriate.
- Keeping eye contact when I talk to him, pausing to give him chance to make his own reply.
- Using songs bags and photographs to drive home meaning.
It doesn’t feel like therapy really anymore – not four years in – and there is a chance that it will never make a difference.
Maybe this will be as good as it gets. I hope not as I want, like all parents, to know everything about this child –his thoughts, his hopes and dreams! But more poignant than that I want to stop having to guess the basics - do you like this? Are you cold? Thirsty? Hungry? Where do you hurt?
Silence is not always golden.
But it’s okay. We’ll get by.
Because it is true that a smile can tell a million words.