Learning to Speak

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.


17 thoughts on “Learning to Speak

  1. Thank you. This really encouraged me tonight, as I sit here awake with a cold and tired of my thoughts always running, tired of never getting enough sleep, just drained. Thank you for helping me out of the pit of self-pity and back to the place of choosing gratitude.

  2. Thank you for being right where we are – in this space and time, on this spectrum – trusting there’s good purpose in the waiting.

    gratitude, i can do. trust is so much harder.

    how i love you.

  3. My daughter only says her name when we put it in context of Rock-a-Bye Baby (we replace “baby” with her name.)

    The body parts come when we sing “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.”

    They’re IN there. It just takes the right prompt.

    JoyMama, say Thank You! What an amazing reminder.

  4. On exhaled breath I thank the teacher who believed Liam could learn to answer ‘what is your name?’ (at age 7 by the way) even when the speech pathologist said it was ‘too advanced’ a skill for him.

    Indeed, celebrate the small steps and things that don’t come easy.

  5. sending you so much hugs and encouragement
    one of my online friends swears by assistive technology
    I read Strange Son recently where a child learns to communicate by pointing
    and when the Dad and mom finally realises that their child knew so much for lal the years that he had seemed impassive and impervious , the following conversation moved me to tears
    Dad says “all those years , what had you been doing Dov?”
    Dov repiles by spelling the word out “Listening”

  6. I am right here with you. I can’t believe sometimes that Jack cannot write a single letter, cannot read, can barely speak.. And he’s almost 8. It’s surreal after years of hard work. But love keeps us believing… Thanks for the reminder. I’m so glad I have you.

  7. Thank YOU! It is so hard to remember to thank Him when we are too busy thinking about what we don’t have. I struggle with this one all the time. Thanks for the reminder to be thankful always.

    And Rhema has the most beautiful eyes…but I’m sure you knew that already!

  8. I remember the first time I heard my Alex’s voice. He read to me a few lines from a book. It was ironic that he could read before he could speak enough to say anything, even his name. He has taught me to appreciate all the milestones children pass through and he has taught me to accept EVERYONE where they are, not where we think they should be.

  9. I so admire your faith. Your ability to persevere and remain faithful and thankful in the most trying of circumstances is amazing. You challenge me, remind me, and push me to grow in my own faith. Thank you!!

    “If I have not the patience of my Saviour with the souls who grow slowly; if I know little of travail (a sharp and painful thing) till Christ be fully formed in them, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” ~ Amy Carmichael

  10. The reality – your reality, or any of ours really – is sometimes so stiffling. And silence seems so much more fitting with dispair and disappointment. But Mahi – your voice is LOUD and your words are CLEAR and if any parent ever shouted from the rooftops of gratitude and faith – my DEAREST Mahi, it is YOU.

    You may be learning to speak in new tongues, but truly the gratitude and faith and hopefulness have been there all along. LOOK at how many of us you speak to – LOOK at how you bring us back into His light and remind us of the strength He gives us. YOU – Mahi – YOU.

    Loud and proud, my Friend. We hear you!

  11. It’s the last line that I will hold with me forever. I am forvever grateful for the gift of you and your beautiful girls.

  12. Thank you Jesus for giving us strength for now and grace for the future that you hold in your hand. Thank you for your Word that gives power and life, for your Spirit that lifts and strengthens, and your grace that so more than sufficient. Thank you for teaching us to listen in order for us to speak.

    Love you Neily! Praying to and believing God to continue to work in your little girls.

  13. You amaze me.  I’ve been wallowing in my misery for a while now and just when I’m ready to pick my head up, brush it off and take a deep breath I come here and read this and you help pick me up.  Thank you and I just gotta say again … you amaze me. 

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