On March 27, 2017, my youngest child was diagnosed with autism. I won’t say that it was the worst day of my life, but I will say that it was the beginning of a new chapter of my life. Uncharted territories if you will. My youngest child is my only son, and officially my last child as I had my tubes tied when I delivered him. At first, I felt as if I was mourning. I felt as if a life I had dreamt for this precious boy of mine was stolen from me. I couldn’t talk about what I was going through with anyone because I felt alienated in my life as a parent to an autistic child. And the last thing that I needed to hear was another unsolicited opinion.
My son was just shy of two years old at the time of his formal diagnosis, but I had known in my heart for months. Mainly, my son lost his language. And, it’s been over three years now that he has remained nonverbal. To be clear, when I say nonverbal, I am meaning that my son does make sounds, it’s just that his vocalizations are not an attempt to make words. They are sounds and his way of expressing himself. But, once I learned to step into his world and became proactive about helping him to communicate, I was instantly amazed at how much he knew, understood, and wanted to tell me. I am by no means a medical professional, but I am a mother who lives every single day with a nonverbal autistic child, and these methods have worked great for us. So, if you find yourself with a nonverbal child, perhaps they can help you, too. After all, it doesn’t hurt to try and you never know just how rapidly they could respond!
Sign language can break down barriers and open doors
My son was fortunate to attend ABA Therapy at a young age, and I know that it did wonders for him. It’s a personal preference whether or not you go the ABA route, but one thing that I can attest to is the importance of early intervention. I can promise you that the sooner you start stepping into their world and enriching their mind in ways that their brain prefers, you’ll be astounded at just how intelligent your little one is. For my family, American Sign Language gave us a way to communicate. We do not sign often anymore, because we now rely on words. We do this because we know that he understands them, although he doesn’t reply back in English, but none of that would have been possible without ASL. I can say without reservation that it was monumental for allowing us to find a way to communicate. Because at the end of the day, all we want is for him to be able to express himself and know what it is that he is thinking, feeling, and wanting to tell us.
It will take time, but be sure when you are showing the sign for the appropriate word, be sure to say that word clearly and loudly simultaneously. This will create a memory in their mind and allow them to know a coordinating word with the sign. My son LOVES to sign the alphabet as he organizes his letters. (More on letters below!) It’s important to note that language IS language, and don’t get discouraged or discredit sign as not being a way to communicate. Because, even I was reluctant on the idea of it at first, but finding a way to tell my son “I love you” and having him be able to say it back to me through ASL is worth every single second spent practicing it with him.
First, tap into their interests
Think of what your son/daughter is into. Whether it’s a character, a show on television, or a theme. Now, engage with your child on these interests of theirs. My son has always had a fascination with music, and I noticed he would study letters because he was intrigued with my keyboard that sits at my desk. My son (who is approximately 5.5 now) gave me the idea to show him the Leap Frog series, which you can view on Netflix. Additionally, there are countless affordable toys which offer alphabet enrichment and engagement. I would take my son on a monthly basis to stores like Walmart or Target, and head on over to the aisle where he could see the products from Leap Frog, and I’d allow him to choose. And, boy, did he just love that. We developed a routine of this, and I must say, there are many Leap Frog toys in our home now which he has mastered. Mr. Pencil is probably his favorite, and it’s wonderful for teaching how to write his letters thanks to the attached stylus.
Give them a space that’s “theirs” to expand their mind
So, I know not all of us have a lot of area in our homes to transform our living spaces into a school zone. But, the pandemic really switched things up and many of us have been forced to school at home. My husband lost his job due to the current state of the world, and he brought home a large dry erase board that he used to have in his office. It’s now in our living area against a wall, and I will often find my son there with his magnet letters spelling words or lining up his alphabet perfectly. I have letters for him that are both upper and lower case, and he’s mastered on his own lining them up appropriately. Many kids on the spectrum enjoy lining things up in neat rows, so this is a great way to engage while satisfying their desire to line things up.
Scrabble letters have a whole new meaning!
If I were to say that there’s one thing that has really shown me just how brilliant my son’s mind is, it’s watching him spell. Interestingly enough, he even spells backwards at times with perfection! I can say for myself I really don’t even think I could do that. When I saw my son’s interest in letters and putting them together, I realized quickly I needed to give him a way to spell when he wanted with ease. So, off to Amazon I went wondering how I could find an inexpensive way to offer him letters to use that were durable. That’s when the idea of replacement Scrabble letters dawned on me! And, thankfully for penny pinching mama, they’re quite inexpensive. Within seconds of me unveiling his letters to him, he went straight to work. What I found most amusing was his disapproval of the two blank tiles, which he promptly handed over to me as if to say, “I have no use for these!”
I’ve documented his many words, phrases, and sentences he’s displayed for us since. My favorite of all being when he spelt “my mother”, which I am 99.9% sure he was referring to yours truly. He continues to amaze me with his new methods of communication he shares with me, and if I can tell you one thing, they are just as special as spoken words. I have good faith that my son will communicate verbally to me once again someday, but my heart feels so full knowing he’s found a way to tell us what’s going on in that little curious mind of his.
Many moms do not know the signs of autism in toddlers. Read my article here to learn the signs of autism that you should never ignore.