"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said."
~Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005)
One of the many roadblocks we faced when trying to
"diagnose" Abby's autism, was that she talked.
And the two main symptoms of Autism that people/pediatricians focus on is eye contact and speech. Abby participated in both of these things, so people were quick to dismiss our fears.
Abby actually has a pretty large vocabulary. The problem lies not in her inability to talk. The problem lies in her difficulty to communicate using those words. Until starting school this past January, she mostly engaged in what is known as Echolalia. As defined by Wikipedia,
"Echolalia is the repetition of vocalizations made by another person. Echolalia can be present in autism ... Asperger syndrome, Alzheimer's Disease and, occasionally, other forms of psychopathology. It is also frequently found in blind or visually impaired children, although most will outgrow this behavior. When done involuntarily, echolalia may be considered a tic."It was very frustrating to know that your child CAN speak, but not to understand why she "chooses" to scream rather than use the words you know she has in her vocabulary. I remember many a time losing my patience and sometimes my temper over what seemed like her refusal to use the words she knew. Instead of asking for her drink or for the crayon she just dropped, she would scream and throw a fit. Then when I would ask, "Do you want your crayon?" She would repeat, "Want your crayon?"
Because I didn't know about Echolalia, I viewed this as Abby's refusal to use words. I would insist as she was throwing tantrums that she "use her words" before I would "give in" to her tantrum. Well this helped nothing. It only made the tantrum worse. Because what I didn't understand was that she might know how to say the words, but she didn't understand how to communicate her wants and needs using those words.
I look back on those times that I lost my patience with her, wishing I could go back knowing what I know now. I wish I could go back and be the patient and loving mother that I always wanted to be. Not the mom who had been screamed at ALL.DAY.LONG. by the little girl with the giant scream and the mom whose patience had worn very thin. I feel badly for the sweet little girl trying to communicate to a mother who had not yet learned to "hear what wasn't being said." I still fail miserably at this some days. But thankfully, those days are few and farther apart now. I can only move forward and do better tomorrow than I did today.
This morning I was treated to a rare gift. My husband let me sleep in until 10 am!!! It was wonderful. When I finally did wake up, Abby was seated at the table, coloring in a notebook with colored pencils. She said to me, "Hi, Mom! Want to color? Come sit down in the seat." as she pointed to the dining chair next to her. She didn't scream at me once. When I complimented her on her excellent choice of words, she smiled and said, "Come on, Mom! Let's color!"
I cannot express to you how proud and thankful I am to have heard those sentences from her today. I'm crying now as I type these last words. The relief I feel at knowing that it's possible! By being patient and looking to understand what it is that Abby is trying to communicate when she doesn't use words, she is finding her voice and finally, finally learning to communicate. This makes each scream a little more tolerable and thankfully, like my least proud parenting moments, those screams are becoming fewer and farther apart.
There is hope. Always hope.