My son is nonverbal. He’s closer to two than one in age and is the size of an average three year old closer to four in age. He’s got giant brown eyes and curly almost blonde hair. His cheeks dance a samba when he runs and his feet are what we call “cornish hens.” He’s our third and final child. He is beautiful.
When I take him for walks in the stroller, passersby often stop and want to interact with him. They get low and smile a toothy smile and say “Hi” while waving. My son will stare at the stranger with a look most serious no matter how long he is smiled and waved at. I’ll play the game and say “Say Hi,” as if he could. I’ll declare that he’s just tired or grumpy. They will declare his curly hair is so cute and move on.
I could tell them, these strangers, that he doesn’t talk. I have in the past, but people don’t know how to respond.
“Maybe he’ll talk to me!”
“How much TV does he watch?”
“His siblings are talking for him right now.”
“You should teach him sign language.”
“Have you tested his ears?”
I used to think telling people he’s nonverbal would make them move on more quickly or fizzle their determination to talk to him. It doesn’t. They feel like they are the secret ingredient to my child’s speech and if they just try hard enough, he will talk to them.
I have ruminated on all the possible causes of his delayed speech. We have done all the tests, signed up for all the things, and practiced all the skills to encourage him to find his words. He doesn’t. He makes eye contact with those he trusts and expels what he believes are words with pure intent. I see him trying to figure out that fat slimy thing in his mouth. He experiments with his tongue to make various sounds. But he’s not there. And one of the possibilities is that he never will be.
My heart breaks when we encounter kids around the same age as my son. Hearing them call for their Mommy or ask to do the slide “Again! Again!“ causes me to ache for a child who speaks. If he decides to try and play with another kid, I will always tell the child’s parent that my son is nonverbal. I’ve never gotten the questions from above. It’s always “It’s okay.” Or “That’s alright.” They don’t judge me or my child for his lack of communication. I’m the only one trying to find a place for judgment.
I can’t help but believe that I have failed my son somehow – be it while he was swimming inside me or those first few months on the outside. Three kids is hard. I could name all the things I did differently with him – things I didn’t do with him that I did with the others – but I’ve already gone over them incessantly in my mind. I want him to have the best life possible. He will still have a beautiful life if he never speaks a word but I still want the world for him. Without the ability to speak, I’m afraid the world will be more cruel than it already is.