The term ‘non-verbal’ often accompanies a diagnoses of autism. Just as autism is a spectrum disorder, the term ‘non-verbal’ covers a vast range of impairment. Some children do not speak at all, others are suspected of being an ‘elective mute.’ It is not a simple question of counting the number of single words a child ‘can’ speak. It is not particularly helpful to note that on ‘average’ a child may speak 6 words per day, especially if all those words arrive on the same day, to leave the rest of the week [or month] in silence.
It is difficult to tie cognitive abilities or measure an IQ by the complexity or simplicity of their vocabulary. For example if a child cannot say the word ‘green’ but can perfectly pronounce ‘Corythosaurus,’ what does that tell you? What if someone can verbally describe every train engine invented, differentiating each with precision, but is unable to name any foodstuff? These questions, and many like them, can torture a parent. Whilst a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, greater knowledge often makes the questions you want to ask more confusing still.
As my boys become less non-verbal, I fixate on what they do say and what they leave out or avoid. My youngest is 18 months ‘behind.’ His older brother is two and a half years ‘behind.’ Their frustrations lessen as more words become available to them.
Maybe we’re better off listening instead?
She displays her new 'pet' lizard with pride. The boys are initially dubious, but it's difficult, if not impossible, to ignore her enthusiasm. She transfers the lizard from the watering can to a box. A great deal of discussion about reptiles ensues. Each child has a monologue on the subject. No-one listens to anyone else's input. It's like three visiting professors, each in their own soundproof box, pontificating.
“What dey are eat?” pipes up junior. I resist correcting his grammar as he has voluntarily asked an indirection question about food, a coup for the “neophobic.” I want to say 'flies and worms,' but choose the safer vegetarian option of leaves, seeds and grains, because lizards know their food pyramid.
One person is motivated to name the pet. The boys see this as a pointless exercise and refuse any suggestion she makes. She lectures them about all the world's little creatures which they eventually warm to. Her choices are ridiculed. The boys select names that either rhyme with lizard or start with the letter 'l.'
The subject of 'escape' of the new pet, becomes the new topic, if not concern. Solutions abound. The necessity for 'oxygen,' is interjected by a fourth independent adult party. The information is received with shock. Yes, lizards breathe too. It is hard to reach a consensus of opinion. The options are, in no particular order of priority; a ring of mouse traps, a lid that is soft to prevent injury with holes to assist life duration, a cat to guard and keep it safe.
The fifth party adult, points out that cats are more than a bit partial to lizards. All are delighted to learn of the friendship between the cold blooded and the warm blooded. In the interests of clarity, a translator explained that by 'partial' their father means 'eat.' More shock and consternation rustles through the small audience, once the true nature of this pertinent but unwelcome fact, has been processed. The concept of “death” is always guaranteed to evoke a meltdown of catastrophic proportions in junior. I nibble my bottom lip and wait. Will he connect 'lunch menu' with “death of lizard?” That is certainly one particular fixation that I am careful to avoid reference to.
In this instance, a general denial filters through them. Clearly the information is false. Surely no right thinking cat would eat a lizard? Their father points out that cats, all cats in fact, are carnivores. Silence. Several people cogitate and process. The pampered pussy cats in our household eat dried food only, as recommended by their very expensive veterinarian. The poor deprived creatures have yet to even get a sniff of the tinned stuff.
The convention of youth continues in silent internal debate. Facts and evidence in support percolate. Junior voices an opinion on behalf of his siblings, “no, I sorry about it but you are being dah very stoopid person.” Both his parents delight at his polite but not deferential tone. “Our cats do not eat dah lizards, dey are being dah crunchivores.”