Nonverbal But Still Outspoken

Victoria Tkachuk by Victoria Tkachuk Additional Needs

Victoria Tkachuk

Victoria Tkachuk

I'm from the Midwest region of the United States and I have four children, three neurotypical daughters and one son with dyskinetic cerebral palsy....

Nonverbal But Still Outspoken

An ode to all the kids using atypical forms of communication.

Do you have a child who is nonverbal, or uses an atypical form of communication? Chances are, they are one of the the loudest in the room! I don't mean by decibels – although some of our kiddos definitely use volume to express themselves, too. I'm talking about how they use every method and mode available to speak what's on their minds to the rest of us. They are nonverbal, but outspoken!

My son Henry does talk, however due to cerebral palsy and low muscle tone in his core, his speaking ability is impaired. So he also uses a communication tablet (also called a “talker” because it essentially talks for him) to fill in the gaps with vocabulary or concepts when he's not being understood verbally. But communicating non verbally is so much more than using a tablet.

Henry uses his hearing skills to such a high functioning degree, it can be alarming.

If I've said it once, even if I was in the other room “out of earshot,” but the conversation concerns him, you can bet he heard me. He also listens intently, in a way others don't. I tend to babble on and talk to myself, but my son acts like it's always a conversation with him. He pays attention to inflection, tone, the anxiety in my voice. He can tell if I'm upset, if I'm excited about something, or if I'm trying to talk out a solution to an issue we're facing. The type of listener he is says a lot about his personality. Henry is an active listener and, once he's processed what he heard, he responds accordingly. He's a compassionate soul, being joyous with the joyful and mournful with those mourning.

My son also depends on his eyesight to communicate. If he glances at someone and turns his eyes down, I know he's uncomfortable. If his gaze lingers on a person, building, game, toy, friend, he is sizing them up, and deciding how he wants to interact. Henry is an expert at rolling his eyes back and giving side eye, it's hilarious! I can even tell which of his respite workers he thinks are particularly pretty; he is not shy about giving puppy dog eyes at them!

Henry even uses his memory to communicate what he thinks was worth recalling.

If I ask him to remember an event from school or something a family member said to us two years ago, his memory starts working on the question like a supercomputer. I can only imagine what treasures of memories he's got locked away. He communicates his love for family, friends, teachers by remembering little things about them, about their character.

And he remembers everything; sometimes this is a blessing, sometimes a curse! Heaven help me if I've suggested an outing he'd enjoy and then forgotten about it. Trust me, the boy will remind me!

Personally, I think my son – and everyone's child with speech impairments - is amazing with how he perseveres every day in order to be understood. Henry is patient, persistent, and can melt you with a smile. It's both what he says out loud and without words that make him so lovable.


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