The question I got asked this week was, “Is she deaf?”
As a mom of a daughter with special needs, I’m used to answering questions people have—or reading peoples’ faces when they have questions but are too uncomfortable to ask.
This was the first time I had been asked this particular question, but when I thought about it for a second, it made sense. I answered, “no she can hear everything, she just doesn’t use words from her mouth to talk.”
I have been very open about how I welcome questions, so times like this keep me on my toes as I too learn how to best communicate to others what it means to be non-verbal.
Based on questions I’ve had before, here’s what I want you to know about my non-verbal child:
- She has incredible hearing! Just because she cannot speak does not mean she cannot hear. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. She hears everything, and she won’t let you forget what she heard! I joke that she has elephant ears because she can hear a whisper from across the room. I liken it to the idea that if one of your senses is not working, the other 4 senses kick into high gear to compensate for the one that is not working. It’s the same idea here. Her hearing is off the charts.
- Speak directly to her! You can address her when you talk, you don’t have to ask me (mom or caregiver) the question on her behalf. For example: “Does Jaxlee want ice cream?” If she is standing right there, you can ask her if she wants ice cream. She may not verbally say “yes” or “no” but she sure knows how to shake her head “yes” when she is offered sugar.
- She can respond—it just looks different. She can still communicate. Whether someone has verbal language or not, we all communicate differently. Body language, gestures, sign language, AAC, Jax uses all of these methods to communicate. She may need a little extra time & patience in order to get her point across, but given the time she will do her darn best to tell you what she wants. It just may not be delivered in the form of words.
- Her receptive language is age-appropriate and developmentally on track. If you tell her to grab the firetruck book and put it in her backpack, then zip her backpackup, she follows instructions step by step. She knows what people are saying to her and around her. The best way to engage with her is to talk to her like she understands, because she does!!
- She is strategically curious. Although she is not asking verbal questions, she is among the most curious of kids. She wants to know everything, see everything and be a part of everything that is going on at all times. In order to “get her answers,” she will position herself in the mix of whatever is going on. She will put herself in the middle of the action to obtain the knowledge she is seeking. Sometimes this goes against social norms or what would be considered appropriate/acceptable behavior. For example, she wants to go behind the checkout stand at the store to see everything that is going on. Her brain is processing what is taking place and she has questions, instead of asking the questions that are in her mind she goes to seek/experience the answers on her own.
Jaxlee continues to be such a gift to our entire family and everyone who meets her. I am only 7 years into this role as a special needs mom and every day I’m learning how to do it better.
I’m grateful for the people around us—both in real life and here on the internet—who want to become better advocates and allies of special needs kiddos.
If you’re interested in learning more about the stuff you aren’t sure if you should ask or even where to begin, here are some other pieces I’ve written to help parents, friends, and family better support kids with special needs:
- How to talk to your kids about inclusion
- How friends can support special needs parents
- What it’s like not to speak