Language Translation

Monday, May 30, 2011

The silence can be broken, but first you must break yours.

In trying to understand the difference between a child who is verbal and non-verbal, my experience has been this:  If your child is verbal, they have shut off access, at least partially, to their heart and emotions.  So your definitions will be very different.  Take all of the emotion out of the definition to a word, and you may come close to having similar definitions, although they still won't be spot on.  If your child is non-verbal, he has chosen to trust his heart rather than his head.  He, too, has walls but they are connected with the brain instead of the heart.

A non-verbal child can think, but is not capable of expressing that thought because it is so much more than just a thought.  It is a complete, everything included experience.  For those on the severe end of the spectrum, the feeling I get is astounding.  It is as though they experience all of everything, I don't know how else to say it.  They are right, there is no possible way to put this into words, or pictures, or music, or art, or anything else.  Each emotion is like words, music, art, and flowing emotion all wrapped up into one...and that's just one feeling - just like the word "wrong" in my last post is just one word.  How do you even begin to express that?  If you ask them how they are feeling, it is so far beyond our comprehension that there is no possible way to even open their mouths.

Just as I, as a child, decided my emotion interpretation must be shut down because I felt so many things at once, they decide their brain must have a malfunction, because they think more things than can be fathomed.  He knows that our language is incapable of beginning to express an inkling of what he desires to express.  It feels dishonest and we are black and white people.  If there is a shade of dishonesty, then it is a lie.  It isn't cold, it just is being able to see the truth as the truth.  I know the way I just said it makes it sound cold and calloused to the rest of the world, but it isn't.  There is more feeling and emotion and heart in it than I can explain.  They can't communicate the way the rest of the world does, so they just shut that part down and put it to better use.

If your child is non-verbal, your best communication tool will be quiet, still time.  Just be there in the room.  Whatever your child is doing, let them do, but you do nothing.  Nothing physically.  Feel and breathe, and focus yourself on him.  Make sure the emotions you focus on are emotions you want to let him focus on.  He will grow accustomed to you as you do this and you will grow accustomed to him.  You will learn to feel you, and eventually you will learn to feel him.

If you are having a stressful day, don't be offended if he doesn't want to be around you, or touch you.  Don't be short-tempered when he starts to have a meltdown.  The best way to help him is to take ten minutes for yourself.  Re-center yourself and be in a place of internal peace.  That will give an instant level of calm to him, like turning down the sensory volume.  If your home becomes one of order and peace, he will improve dramatically.  Improvement can look like many things...less meltdowns, more conscious interaction, more calm and less "hyper" - any and/or all of these will happen.  There may be something else altogether that will happen.  But it will be movement in the direction you need to head.

If he needs time to pause and look at something, let him.  Give him his space, and in his way.  Don't try to figure out what he is thinking and feeling, that is like me talking over you in mid-sentence.  He is so aware of all of the energies around him that it is literally like he can't get a word in edgewise, in his own brain.  How frustrating that must be!  I would probably throw fits occasionally too.  Take note the next time there is a meltdown.  Is there someone in your home that is emotionally upset or very excited?  If so, it may help to verbalize to him what is happening.  Tell him how you are feeling and why, be sure to include the why.  It will help separate the emotional overload he experiences.  (Yes, thoughts and feelings emit an electrical energy that moves beyond the border of your physical body.  And, yes, there is scientific data to back that up.  Look into a woman named Barbra Brennan who used to be a research scientist for NASA.)

It is harder for mother's of non-verbal children in one way, you can't be certain of the feedback from your children without a bit of trial and error.  But the work is worth it, I promise.  If you will verbalize your feelings to him, honestly, he will start to be able to know that all the things he's feeling are not his own.  As this happens he will be able to handle more.

Verbalizing how you feel and making certain he knows it isn't his fault is extremely important.  A little over a month ago I was in New York.  I stayed with a friend for the week I was there and the day before I left we had a conversation that was life-changing for me.  I've known for years that I could pick up on what other people were feeling.  I didn't know how off I was on what some of those emotions meant.  As she and I spoke, she helped me discover something.

For our entire friendship (about 6 years or so) I thought she was just putting up with me, that she really didn't want me around.  She would say she loved having me over, she enjoyed spending time with me, etc.  But the feeling I kept getting from her was was almost like an internal groan, like she was internally saying, "Oh no, not Tara again."  It made me so confused and made me feel like she was lying to me all the time.  I told her how I felt.  I've questioned her before when she would say something and I would kind of dismiss it, because what she said and what she felt were two different things.

On this particular day, we finally found the light.  The feeling I was picking up on had nothing to do with me.  She did feel a feeling of not wanting me around, but it was not because she didn't want me around.  She felt all kinds of feelings of self-doubt and really beat herself up over the apparent disparity she felt was there between my ability to tune in and her ability to tune in.  She used as an example the experience I wrote about in my first post - the woman on the subway.

My friend said, "I was closer to her than you were, she was right next to me.  Why didn't I feel what she was feeling?  Why couldn't I pick up on it?"  She went on to explain that it wasn't that she didn't want me around, she loved having me around.  She felt such a disappointment in herself when I was around that it made it hard for her to interact with me.  We talked more and helped her feel better, but that doesn't need to be shared here.

The point is this:  I thought the loathing was aimed at me.  I could feel the disappointment, the frustration.  I couldn't read her mind, I just knew that she felt those things when I was around.  The day after that conversation she really helped me hit home the conversation when she told about talking with her husband about the conversation we had the day before.  I realized I was misinterpreting a lot of the emotions around me, not just her.  I could feel things from others and thought they were all aimed at me.  The reality was that they were very rarely aimed at me.  I cannot tell you the number of people I have driven away by my endless questioning of their friendship because of picking up on something that was not intended towards me at all.

Don't let your child think that the anger, hurt, frustration, etc. is his fault.  Tell him why you feel the way you do, and who it is aimed at, not just what you are feeling.  This is true for verbal/signing and non-verbal children alike.  They pick up on everything, but that doesn't mean they interpret it correctly.  They may not even be conscious of the fact that they are picking up on things.  I sometimes get into what I call "work mode" and it seems like I feel nothing.  But if I stop and focus, I realize why I am sitting like a ball of stress when there is nothing particularly stressful about the day.

If there is a meltdown, it could be someone in the home, or it could be someone your child is connected to in some way (whether physically present or not).  It could be the weather, it could be the music, it could be the season...just depending on the depth of your child's sensitivities.  I've found that the less interactive a child is with you, the deeper the sensitivity goes.  Don't be overwhelmed by it.  Just be open to the idea that if he is struggling, there may be something he needs.

Find the things that help him get grounded.  For me it just takes physical touch from someone whose emotions are more centered.  Sometimes it is as simple as smelling my favorite blend of essential oils.  Other times I need to close my eyes, put on a pair of headphones with Clair de Lune playing on repeat.  It just depends on the day and on the intensity of the emotions in the room. 

When I am not overwhelmed and feel balanced, I am peaceful.  If I am getting too much, I tend to either get hyperactive or get sick.  If your child is sitting peacefully and there is no illness or fever, take note of how the environment feels.  Take note of how you feel.  What is he doing?  What were the events that lead up to that moment.  Something in there helps your child get grounded.  It will, again, take a little more detective work on your part.  But honestly, you can spend your energy really knowing your child and learning things that truly help, or you can use your detective work to search out another doctor who will run another battery of tests with another dozen drugs to try before shrugging shoulders and saying, "I can't understand why it didn't work."

Above all, non-verbal does not mean vacuous.  In fact, no matter what the brain scan tells you, they function on a level that we are not capable of comprehending.  I know I touched on it above, but truly, when I am sitting and have found a safe space with a person who is non-verbal - meaning a space where they feel calm and at peace and can interact - I am blown away by the things I learn.  The little girl I currently care for sat with me on my third day at work and taught me a connection between physics and music that is still making my mind spin.  And she is five.

Now, that's not to say that if she could speak she could explain to you the complexities and technical terms of physics.  There are eternal, natural laws that are in existence.  She knows them and understands them.  She explained them to me by sharing part of herself with me.  For about ten minutes I was able to feel and see through her eyes, and WOW, what an experience.

Talk with your child just like you talk with everyone else.  They need it and it will encourage them to interact more.  Part of the reason non-verbal children are absent so much is because they are ignored.  Verbal or not, you would become mentally absent if you were ignored even without being sensitive to anything else.  If you don't encourage them and give them a reason to stay, they won't stay.  Interaction starts with you, not with them.  The silence can be broken, but first you must break yours.  You have taught them over the years that they are secluded, they are separate, they are not part of the family/class/group, etc.  There will be hurt feelings to mend.  Depending on the age of your child, you may need to help instill trust again and a self-esteem.

Unintentionally, and probably because of the doctors suggestions, you may have given him the feeling that he doesn't matter to you at all.  He may feel like the least important person in your life, or maybe even feel utterly worthless to you, or maybe feel like he is the cause of all your burdens and pain.  If he does feel this way, please, please remember it is not your fault.  You have done everything with your heart in the right place.  You have done the best you could with the knowledge you were given.  Don't get angry at will make him feel like it is all still his fault.  Just let yourself feel your disappointment.  Cry over it, grieve over it.  Then let go of it and resolve to do differently.

The wonderful thing about these very special children is that they heal much more quickly than we do.  He will feel the change in you and if you verbalize the confusion to him, that will help.  That single conversation with my friend in New York was amazing.  It was retroactive.  As soon as the realization hit me, all of the hurt from all of my relationships disappeared as though in an instant.  I felt loved by those around me and a part of everything that I thought I was an outcast from just moments before. 

It may take some time for you to adjust to the new way of interacting and you may even feel self-conscious at first.  Keep going, it will be worth it.  You will see things the doctors told you were impossible.  You will see miracles happen before your very eyes.  Then you can go to your doctors and teach them, if they are willing to hear.  And maybe others can be helped and healed.  Talk with your child, he understands far more than you think.  Don't talk down to him.  Speak to him like he understands you, because he does.

*This is a blog about my own life and my own experience.  If you choose to follow anything written here, you do so without any claim on me for problems or complications that may arise.  I am not a doctor.  I have no degree.  I am not a professional.  This is my perspective and experience, that's all.  If you don't think you should do something on here, then don't.*


  1. I have a good friend who is a very talented artist. He has done a piece that I think will speak to all of the parents who struggle within themselves. "How do I help my child?" Niki's art is heartfelt and reaches you. See it. Read his inspiration for it. You will connect. Thanks for all the support! ~Tara

  2. This is a beautiful post, and I thank you from my heart for sharing such profound thoughts. I have a son with autism and I confess, I've NEVER looked at it in quite the way you have shown me today. I really, truly, appreciate you sharing this!!

  3. I read this, and cried and cried. My son is 8, and he is non verbal. I could never explain to anyone the deepness I saw in his eyes when we were just quiet together. I didn't know if that was okay, or if I should be helping him some other way. I'm so glad my friend passed along your blog, its amazing. AMAZING. thank you for the insight!