Non verbal…not stupid

How many times do we not subconsciously, or consciously, make the assumption that someone’s reply equals their thoughts?

What if you just do not have the words to describe what you are thinking?

We all have those frustrating moments where in mid conversation you would like to describe a thought, feeling or remember a name, but in that moment the word is gone. The frustration …the agony…until you can remember.

Does that mean you are stupid?

Then it dawned on me why my child needs the therapy. Is this what she experiences? It’s a more constant state of a loss of words. Her brain did not allow her to absorb the words as normal children would, therefore when she opens the drawer in her brain to get the word out, there is either; no word, or the wrong word. Words are only the vehicle of the thought, not the thought itself.

In my varsity years I once traveled to Italy with a precious friend of mine. This was a dream come true. My first trip overseas. The preparation was very diligent and precise. Part of the preparation was language classes. Italian. Another dream come true; I always wanted to speak Italian.

We attended our classes week after week, writing and speaking. Difficult, very difficult. See, we wanted to prepare for getting to know people, talking, and socializing. My friend was a few steps ahead of me, since her father is Italian and they heard the language and spoke bits of it at home. Yet, her home language was not Italian and the family we were planning to visit ONLY spoke Italian, in a southern accent. We were taught the pure Italian. With this we had to make it up as we go.

I never lost courage during the six months of learning the language. I had a dream and it was on the verge of becoming true. I was excited!

The trip turned out well for us, considering we had no Whatts Apps to send, wink wink. Just the good old pay phone with calls home every other day.
After we arrived in the home town of my friend’s family, Praia A Mare, we settled and thoroughly enjoyed the cultural experience.

One specific evening I can remember clearly: This evening we all had dinner and was just having fun being together. I loved being there. Listening, laughing and eating. Only thing was, I couldn’t join in the conversation. I could understand well what everyone was talking about…
But I couldn’t respond, answer quick enough or give any insightful input.

And then I heard my own thought loud and clear: “They must think you’re stupid, and they’ll never know the real you, because you can’t speak Italian…”

I was trapped, frustrated. For the rest of the trip I had to force myself to speak, to just put words out there. I had to say the words even if they were wrong or crazy …. I just had to keep talking. Why did I keep on trying? Because I discovered that if you don’t talk, people forget about you. They forget that you are in the room.

I obviously enjoyed the trip. It was so amazing and magical. But today I am thankful that I experienced being non-verbal. How else would it ever make sense? The logical assumption is: If there is no words there must be no thoughts. My thoughts were plenty that evening, but they had nowhere to go.

Now my daughter’s words are stuck most days, for us the grace over her was plenty, since she could have therapy from two years of age, and her speech improved. The screaming slowly, but surely, started turning into words and the relief was tremendous. For her and us. Her thoughts had somewhere to go and did not remain bottled up and unheard.

At eight years of age she doesn’t even closely have all the words she needs,
to express all her thoughts and emotions. But sometimes in the midst of the rush of the day she would say something that would stop me in my tracks. Her thoughts: Unexpected, profound and beautiful. Other days the emotions and thoughts just does not connect with her language, and the frustrations build.

Bottom line? Keep reminding yourself that there is thoughts even if the words are few.

The input, emotion and knowledge didn’t disappear, but the words might have. Encourage communication creatively.
Everyone deserves to be heard …

Written by Johanni Meiring

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