On a rather busy morning last week, the phone rang. As I reached for it, I cleared my throat and said, “Hello?”
“Good morning. May I please speak to Ronan Jameson?”
I hesitated and was able only able to utter, “Uh…”
I immediately felt uneasy and somewhat annoyed. Most everyone who calls the house knows that Ronan cannot speak. Who was this person was and why did she need to talk to my non-verbal son?
I politely asked, “Who’s calling, please?”
“This is Cindy. I’m calling from the diaper service company.”
“Oh.” I said. Deciding whether to put Ronan on the phone or not, I glanced to where he was. Sitting on the couch with iPad in hand, his favorite movie playing on the DVD player, and breakfast just served on the table behind him—a gluten-free feast fit for a king—I decided not to put Ronan on the phone. Had it been a telemarketer, I may have said, “Sure. And good luck!” before passing the phone to the boy who lost his speech several years ago.
Turning away from Ronan, I told Cindy, “Well, Ronan can’t talk. I’m his Mom…what is it you need?”
Cindy stammered. My response must have caught her off guard. She said, “Well, let me leave a note in the file that we should talk to you instead.”
I could hear her typing as she tried to regain her thoughts. She was calling about the next shipment date but had gotten so flustered. I took the call and her oversight it in stride but wondered if Cindy could tell that I was faking a smile while waiting for her to proceed with the call.
Other representatives have always asked for me directly, but I did not protest her adding that Ronan can’t talk to his file. Lack of typical speech is something worth noting. It may have been news to Cindy, but it’s something we have been addressing for quite some time. Sign language, flash cards, labeling everything in the house, narrating every action, emotion, and item Ronan sees, smells or touches, we flooded Ronan with words as soon as he went silent. Despite our efforts, though, Ronan hasn’t regained speech.
We still label things Ronan sees. We still narrate what we’re doing and what he’s doing, too. We still start conversations with Ronan in the hopes that he’ll offer a verbal reply in return, but his expressive speech skills remain practically non-existent.
Ronan has figured out other ways to communicate. We are grateful that he’s done this and celebrate every connection he makes. Making connections with abstract concepts get a great amount of praise like the time when I asked Ronan how old he was. Some may think it a silly question, but for Ronan who has never shown us that he understands the concept of time to include how many years have passed by, we whooped and hollered quite excitedly when Ronan wrote down correctly, and confidently, how old he was.
We had an even bigger celebration the time Ronan effortlessly showed us what his last name was. Never had we thought he knew it. But never had we thought to ask Ronan to tell us what his last name is. Of course, he’s heard his last name but to communicate that he knew it? Never.
He wrote Jameson as if he’d been writing his last name for years.
If you’re wondering why the cursive letter strip is in the picture it’s because I was curious to see if Ronan could read cursive. Yep, he can. And guess what? After I modeled how to write his name in cursive, Ronan wrote his name in cursive, too.
Ronan can’t talk. He can’t verbally express his wants, needs, or desires. But he can communicate. He has been able to figure out how to tell us things that we never expected to discover. He has been able to show us things we never dreamed he could understand. He has been able to share things he can do that we never thought were possible. We’ve learned so much from a child, who now uses only 3 functional spoken words, through signing, typing, and writing. And through laughing.
Ronan loves words. To see them, to read them, and to have someone say them aloud for him, which is what he wanted me to do a few days ago, Ronan is so happy when someone acknowledges the words he sees. Just a few days ago, as I’ve done hundreds of times before, Ronan pointed to words he wanted me to say. When it was my turn to ask Ronan to point words, I used ones on his Spelling list that he was studying. But Ronan couldn’t stop laughing. Every time I repeated one of the words, he giggled. Every time Ronan pointed to the word so that my husband could read it, he giggled even harder.
Heaven was one of the bonus words on his spelling list. And what a bonus it was to hear him giggle each time I or my husband said it out loud. Pure. Innocent. Peaceful. What a slice of Heaven it was to see Ronan so happy and to hear those silly giggles.
I giggled to myself earlier in the week. That was after that woman, Cindy from the diaper service, and I hung up the phone. Not that they ever did before, but in case it isn’t Cindy calling back the next time, the reps there now know to go over order information with Mom, not with the non-verbal 12-year old child.
Not being able to talk is one of Ronan’s greatest struggles, but somehow, he manages to work through them. We do as well always with the hope that he will show us more, tell us more, and teach us more. He may be severely affected. He may be completely dependent. He may be years behind his siblings and peers, and still be in diapers, and still not yet be able to speak. But Ronan is pure. He is innocent. And he is full of peace. Someday, I pray that I, too, will feel that same sense of peace.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.