My parents say I was born talking and haven’t shut up since. This is only a slight exaggeration. According to my baby book, I was talking in 2-3 word sentences at 15 months. I have always known what I wanted and never hesitated to express it.
When I was a child, I chattered on and on until people begged me to stop. As a teenager, my research papers and essays were long. I wrote short stories and novels for fun. Public speaking never bothered me. Sure, I was nervous – but a whole classroom of people who had to listen to me talk? What’s the problem?
Yes, I have a voice – and I use it.
But my voice is no longer for me, for my use. It is also my son’s.
My third child, PuddinPie, has a condition called Childhood Apraxia of Speech. It is also known as Developmental Apraxia. My son knows what he wants to say, and his mouth is physically able to form words, but there is a glitch between his mouth and his brain. When he feels a strong emotion (really happy or very angry), he is sometimes able to override the glitch and words will pop out . . . yet we rarely hear those words again. He is three years old, but has less than 30 words and almost all of them are CV combinations, such as “dada.” His primary form of communication is through body language, the jargon he has, his few words, and a special program on the iPad.
I have a voice, loud and clear, but my son lacks one.
When I was younger, people told me I have a gift and I should use it. I was encouraged to write, to publish, to speak at major events. They told me my voice would make me famous and I should put it to good use. I am putting it to good use . . . but not in the way anyone thought I would.
I am my son’s voice. My son works very, very hard to form the gift that I was given and that I often take for granted. He cannot stand up for himself. He cannot tell me what he wants or needs. PuddinPie knows he cannot talk and knows other people can’t understand him, so he has some extreme anxiety about being left in child care situations. I need to be his voice, then, to tell people how he expresses his wants and needs and reassure him that everything will be okay.
People often muse how funny it is that I, the verbal one, have been gifted with a child who cannot speak. But, I think, what if I wasn’t verbal? What if I wasn’t a talker? What if I wasn’t the type of person who didn’t do loads of research? What if I had just thought, “Eh, he’s not a talker” or “He’ll just catch up” or “Einstien didn’t talk until he was three.” How old would he have been before people discovered there really is a problem, a problem that runs deeper than “some boys are late talkers”? How much would he suffer?
See, my voice is a gift, but it’s not a gift for me. It’s a gift for my children. Especially for PuddinPie. It’s the gift I have to help them, to advocate for them. I can and will stand up and speak for my child. I will use it to advocate for him, to get him the help he needs.
The words have always flown easily from my brain to my mouth. The same is not true for my child. I will never ever take this for granted again, and I will use my voice, my ability, to make sure he can take the same thing for granted.
I have a voice so that one day, my child may have a voice too.