"Does he talk, does he say anything at all?"
"Does he have any more words yet?"
I remember a mum at a special needs playgroup saying to me once, "I'm just desperate to hear her voice and hear her say mummy. Can you imagine not hearing that from one of your kids?"
Yes, yes I can.
But I think that mum made a fundamental mistake in her statement. Just because her daughter doesn't talk, it doesn't necessarily follow that she doesn't have a voice.
David has autism and no, he doesn't say any actual words. He uses Makaton sign language and will often vocalise some syllables of the words he is trying to communicate. Without Makaton it would be extremely difficult for anyone to understand what he was saying. But trust me, my son has a voice.
He tells me when he wants something and when he doesn't. He tells me when he's having fun and when he's distressed. And he's more likely to sign and give an effort to say daddy than mummy. After all, why request me? I'm always here.
About two years ago David's signing vocabulary started to expand far beyond the 20 or so words he knew that were his favourite food items. He started signing 'swing' in the garden and 'house' when it was time for home.
One particular afternoon I was getting him out the car after returning home from his specialist nursery. He grabbed me tight as I went to release him from the car seat. I took the opportunity for a hug and said 'hug' as I squeezed him awkwardly. I went to get him out for a second time and he grabbed me again. This time I backed up and signed and said 'hug' in Makaton. Then I asked him what he wanted. David signed hug for the first time. I nearly cried. I gave him such praise and he giggled hugely as I nearly crushed him. We continued signing and hugging for at least two minutes if not more. Eventually, my daughter who was sat on the other side of the seat started requesting hugs too so we went into the house.
I think David's got a great voice. A baby has to hear hundreds of repetitions of words to pick up them up. Everywhere they go, babies are listening and adding to their words lists. Imagine though that the baby didn't hear any of those words because they weren't engaged with them. David's had to pick up sign via a much shorter number of repetitions because it's not happening everywhere. No one signs in shops or at the playground. We don't even all sign to each other in the house, although his verbal siblings went to signing classes to learn Makaton too.
David may not say many words but we are working with him to help him say more. He will 'fit in' more if he talks, but even when he is older he could be like the other 25% of individuals with autism who are non verbal. Talking is not the be all and end all. He understands situations and expresses his opinions. I was far more happy with his understanding and desire to sign and have a hug that I am about his odd attempt to say mummy. That's not even considering the progress he's made with his receptive language (the language he receives) such as following instructions, much of which is helped by our signing. For example when he first understood 'kiss' or communicated 'I love you' - those are pretty good stories too.
You can read more about David and his family on their blog written by his mum, Ann, at www.rainbowsaretoobeautiful.com or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.