Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Talk With My Nonverbal Child

Update from yesterday: a friend has *very* generously offered their iPad2 as they will be purchasing an iPad3 when that comes out in a few months. To say that I'm floored is an understatement. I am so. very. thankful.

I wanted to talk a bit more about how to communicate with Dean while he is not really talking in the meanwhile. Of course, out in public places like the grocery store, there are many well-meaning people who try to converse with the boys. They don't know why Dean doesn't respond, but they are generally ok with it and try to interact with him because, well, why not? One time a store clerk turned to me after Dean wouldn't respond verbally and said, "Well, doesn't he TALK?" "Actually, he doesn't," I responded. "We're working on it." End of conversation. But most people really are sweet about it because Dean ropes them in with his dimples and sweet demeanor.

Cole and Emmett probably have the least problems communicating with Dean because they've grown up with him. Cole is very in tune with his brother and is able to "translate" how Dean is doing for others.

Because Cole is so VERY verbal, a lot of people talk to him only and ignore Dean. I'd bet all the money in the world that it's usually not intentional, as it's easy to talk with the person who is talking most with you! But I just want to yell, "Dean is RIGHT there. Please talk with him, too!" He understands pretty much everything we say. He might not be able to keep up physically in every way, and he might not be able to give you details about his thoughts and feelings, but he is a person too and deserves to have interactions like others do.

What do you do? Well, what do you do with other people? Ask questions? Ask Dean some. Ask him to show you something he likes. Grab a ball and have a conversation as you throw it with him. Let him know that you are excited to be in his presence. He knows when you are or aren't. Do an activity alongside Dean and talk about what you're doing. Listens for sounds and look for sights and ask him if he sees/hears them too. Pretend to be butterflies and fly through the house or make a fort and hole up inside it. After all, he's just a kid. Kids like that kind of stuff.

I've noticed in Dean's therapy sessions that when a therapist is distracted and is talking with someone else too much (which can include me), Dean loses interest. He knows when he isn't in the loop. I beg you, keep him in the loop. People with disabilities are *just as human* as you are and need the connection with others. So please, try to talk with him. Dean might not hold a conversation with you the way you'd hope, but it's absolutely as rewarding (if not more :)).


Dora said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. I have a nephew with Asperger's and he often has difficulty communicating. Your description of how Dean withdraws when he knows he is not "in the loop" is also how my nephew reacts, but when he is treated/included the same as the "normal" members of the family his vibrant personality shines through even without speaking much or at all.

Yes, it may take a bit more work, but you are so right on when you say it is worth it.

Kera said...

Fantastic news about the iPad2. It will be a wonderful tool for Dean.

We have some similar issues with "strangers" talking to Delilah. She does speak and communicate rather well...when she is ready and feels like it. It takes her a while to process things when people talk to her, including me. If someone comes up and says "hi" or try to talk to her, she is, almost always, silent. She just doesn't respond quickly. And it's not due to shyness, cause little girl doesn't have a shy bone in her body. She just takes longer to process and it would be nice if people would be a little more patient waiting for answers.

Ali Foley Shenk said...

Dora, thank you so much for your comment (and you too, Kera!).

I think a lot of people are honestly scared .They think they don't know how to talk with people who can't "talk" back. And I think for most people, we gravitate toward those who give the most back to us in conversation. If you constantly are having to pull teeth to talk with someone, it can get awkward and tiresome. So I get that.

And then of course there are ignorant people who just think that everyone magically knows how to talk and that it's a behavioral issue if they won't. Sigh. But I do think that a lot of people mean well.