Having a nonverbal child isn't as bad as you might think

Having a nonverbal child isn't as bad as you might think

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All parents have worst-case scenarios for their children. This is often especially true of parents of special-needs kids, so if this describes you, know that you're not alone. If you've just gotten a diagnosis, you may imagine all kinds of grim possibilities, and might have trouble picturing things going well.

I'm guilty of this. When I got my son Daniel's prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, I was mainly worried about two things. First, I was worried that he would never be able to do "normal" kid things, like ride a bike or a swing. Second, I was worried that he would never be able to speak "normally."

I don't know why these two things came to mind when I thought of a "normal" childhood, but they did. I wanted a child who could 1) ride a bike, and 2) talk. And maybe, if I was lucky, talk while riding a bike.

It turns out my child pretty much has no interest in either. But it also turns out, it's fine.

Before long, they are 2 years old. You learn that when they bring you the remote, they want to watch Paw Patrol (and are very angry when you opt for Forensic Files instead).

Then you ring in your baby's third or fourth birthday and watch their friends, even those with similar conditions, saying whole sentences while your baby won't even utter "Mom." And you are so, so frustrated. You see new speech therapists. You read a million articles. You cry and you wonder why this is your cross to bear (because every special-needs mom has one, or many).

Some time goes on and your child starts school, and perhaps learns a word or two. You have a hundred mini heart attacks because you wonder what will happen when your baby needs something at school and isn't able to communicate. What happens if he needs to go to the bathroom? What happens if someone hits him? What happens if he's thirsty?

Eventually you realize the school is full of real-life heroes who are as dedicated to helping your child as you are. And it's fine. If you're a parent of a special-needs child who doesn't now or may not ever communicate like other kids, you should know that. It's fine.

Once you get over your fears, you learn to adapt. You start learning sign language (sometimes from what your child picks up at school). You know that when he digs out a cup and puts it on the counter it means he's thirsty. You learn that "nonverbal" does not mean "unable to communicate."

Having a 9-year-old who is nonverbal probably sounds terrifying to most people—and in some ways, it does even to me, who has one. But you don't just wake up with a child like this one some random morning. You hold your child as a newborn, you learn their cues. You know when they are hungry, tired, dirty. You take them on walks in their stroller on beautiful sunny afternoons and to their pediatrician visits. And slowly, you find your normal – and realize that even if it doesn't look like a lot of other people's normal, it's pretty great too.

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.

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