I’m told the girl’s got some new academic programs at school. I am excited because this means progress!
One of her new programs is learning to answer a social question. The question? What is your name.
What is your name??
Reality flattens me, the air rushing out of my balloon like a high-pitched whine.
Rhema cannot answer that question. Maybe she doesn’t understand or maybe she just doesn’t know how to respond. I’ve heard her say her name once or twice in all her life. She was only mimicking, and she didn’t say it like it’s pronounced: RAY-MAH. It was fast and repetitive, the R and M sounds running together, with a stress on the second syllable. The way she said it, I remember it was beautiful.
Another of her academic programs is to name body parts. When she was two years old, I’d read that naming 3 or more body parts was a skill she should have. There were many missed milestones at that point, but this one I felt we could tackle. I was determined to make her learn. I’d rub my nose against hers until I was dizzy and exclaim “Nose!” I’d read The Foot Book by Dr. Suess every night, and tickle her “feet, feet, feet!” Now, five years later we’re still working on it. And in fact the immediate goal is to focus on naming just one body part.
In a matter of minutes the pendulum swings from high high to low low. Oh my gosh, she’s seven. And she needs intensive academic programs with one-on-one ABA trials and data collection and prompts and reinforcers… just to learn how to name a body part and answer the question, What is your name??
I look at the charts and graphs of collected baseline data. I only see zeros – hinting that these are very long term goals.
We’ve been on the journey for a little while now. I think I should be used to this. But there are times when I cannot believe this is happening. Still.
I leave the school trying to practice a thankful heart, trying to resist discouragement’s pull.
Rhema’s ongoing struggle to communicate has caused us to give the whole process of speech and language acquisition much more attention than one typically would. I’ve learned that the best way to learn to speak is to listen. Then you imitate what you hear with your mouth, trying out the sounds. (Rhema is here. She is constantly babbling, humming, playing with the feel of sound on her tongue and in her ears.) The sounds become familiar, take on meaning, you use them to consistently name something – a body part, an object, a Truth, yourself.
So I listen to the Word: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is LORD”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” ~Rom. 10:8,9
“We’re really excited that we can add these expressive programs to her academics now,” her teacher had said.
This girl of mine is ready for *expressive* programs – ones that involve spoken language!
In the same way we prompt her to speak: “Rhema, say ‘pop'”, I feel prompted: “Jeneil, say ‘thank you'”.
But sometimes it’s hard to find your voice in the face of endless disappointments and weariness and doubt and the charts with all the flat lines, but sometimes your strength only comes when you speak gratitudes on exhaled breaths. Sometimes the only way to get through is to say it out loud until you mean it.
For sweet babblings and spoken words, Lord, I thank you.
For her name, Lord, I thank you!
For teachers who keep loving, keep hoping, keep trying; never tiring. Thank you.
Thank you for the way you speak through a child with few words. You are amazing, God!
God, thank you for ‘stomach’, her perfect stomach, the first body part she will learn to name.
Thank you for being right where we are – in this space and time, on this spectrum – trusting there’s good purpose in the waiting.
Thank you for every small step, for things that don’t come easy – the celebration is sweeter.
And so, this is how I’m learning to speak.