Talking to a non-verbal kid is a complicated endeavor. They can’t talk and so we don’t listen. But what we’ve learned is that they do talk. She doesn’t use words. She doesn’t use hand gestures (consistently) but she does talk. You just have to know how to hear her.
Our daughter has very consistent ways of letting us know what she wants if we talk to her in the right way and this is learned behavior for us over the course of the last number of months and years. Though, it’s important to note, similar stories across the Rett community and non-verbal communities have been echoed.
The first thing we do is get down on her level. Talking to a person eye to eye is important in any social interaction. In your day to day life you would never have a conversation with someone looking down on them the entire time, or up at them. You’d position yourself to be on their level. And for Maggie, it’s no different. When you’re 3 feet tall and eye to eye is usually with someone’s knee, trying to get your point across is frustrating. So, we get down to her level so she can look in our eyes and we can pay attention to hers. Her eyes, provide much insight into her wants, and she has more control of them than she does of the rest of her body.
She can’t talk, and in a lot of ways, she still needs all the assistance of a toddler, so it’s an easy habit to talk to her like she’s a toddler. But she’s not. She’s a 5 year old and has every single opinion and emotion that a typical 5 year old would. When we talk down to her as if she’s a toddler, she clams up – that’s her way of reminding us she’s not a baby anymore. The more we remember to talk to her like she’s her age, the more she appreciates it. She likes being a big girl, so we have to remember to treat her as such.
We ask her yes or no questions and wait. It takes her a little extra time to process things, so giving her that extra time allows her to connect all the dots. If she looks directly at you, she’s saying yes. If she leans in, she is giving you an emphatic yes. If she turns away, it’s her saying no. Once you witness it, you’ll wonder how you ever missed it. But it’s a very cool way to have functional conversation with her.
The other thing we do is present her with options. Using this same yes/no technique, we let her know what her options are. “Do you want, A, B, or C?” Then we go one by one and allow her the opportunity to say yes or no to each one, allowing us to zero in on what it is she actually wants.
Eventually this will help her spell and write, but for now, we’re just happy there’s another way for her to communicate with us.