“Annabelle has autism and is non-verbal, but this does not mean she has nothing to say. It means she uses every type of communication possible to get across the message she wants to share.
When Annabelle cries, she will grab my hands and move them towards my eyes to communicate that she wants me to do the ‘wah, wah, wah’ movements from ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ song. This gesture might sound simple, an obvious connection for a kid to make, but it’s actually a powerful tool for Annabelle.
When she uses this action to communicate, and then I show her that I understand what she is saying, I can see a sense of relief move through my daughter’s body. Annabelle might still be crying about what upset her in that moment, but it’s clear that she also feels validated. ‘Yes, my momma sees me. She sees that I am crying and that something is wrong. I am heard. I am not alone.’
No words needed to show that she feels safe.
Annabelle’s communication isn’t always quite as clear; there are times when I have to follow an intuitive ZING in my own body to understand my daughter’s message.
Lately, there have been moments when Annabelle is not upset, but she will reach up to pull my glasses off my face. She stares intensely at my eyes.
On my end, her actions in these moments feel a lot like she is trying to figure out what is happening on the inside of an eyeball by scooping it out! Instead of just brushing off Annabelle’s interest in eyeball poking as a slightly dangerous way of exploring the world, I have chosen to meet her actions with curiosity.
In moments like this, I lean in to some of the foundational beliefs of our family. All behavior is communication. Always look for the ‘why.’
Presume competence. Feelings are like icebergs; there is one on the surface, but many feelings underneath.
After many moments of investigating Annabelle’s new behaviors, I had a hunch that Annabelle had connected the body part ‘eye’ and the word ‘I,’ but still wasn’t sure of the full message she was trying to communicate.
Which brings us to last week, when Annabelle and Lily were playing together at the end of the day. Lily was being incredibly sweet and caring toward her little sister, a very regular occurrence between the two. When it comes to love and connection, these sisters have already had enough magical moments to fill a lifetime.
Their love is a pure, true love. Until the eyeball poking starts. Except this time, with my new understanding of Annabelle’s connection of ‘eye’ and ‘I,’ that intuitive ZING inside my momma brain kicked in.
‘Annabelle, are you trying to say I love you to Lily?‘
‘I llloooyyyyoouuuu, Llllliilyyyyy.’
They were words pulled from deep inside her. It was a powerful moment that matched the feelings of the safety and love Annabelle was experiencing in her sister’s presence.
There was a matching gasp from me and Lily, heads snapping toward each other with our mouths wide open, and an instant pouring of tears on my part.
Just like in this video we recorded in 2020, when Annabelle was around three and Lily would have been close to six, there was JOY seeping from everyone involved.
The same joy fills our family every time Annabelle communicates something to us for the first time.
When she shows us that she wants a box of Oreos off the shelf at the grocery store, even if that means she is hollering and crying as she reaches out for them.
When Annabelle smiles and skips, giggling uncontrollably to show is happy to be at a certain park.
When she stares intensely at my face as I wave goodbye and the doors close for her morning at therapy.
So many of us take the ability to communicate easily for granted. We expect that our words will flow and that others will understand what we want to communicate. For some, it just isn’t that simple.
There has to be a strong feeling of safety, with a regulated sensory system. Emotional security and deep connection to people that are consistent and caring. There has to be something really important to say; something that is worth all of physical and cognitive effort needed to speak words out loud.
Something like the love between a little girl and her big sister.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelly Rock. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Subscribe to our free email newsletter, Living Better—your ultimate guide for actionable insights, evidence backed advice, and captivating personal stories, propelling you forward to living a more fulfilling life.
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‘He looks directly into my eyes. Behind his gaze, I see everything he can’t yet say. No amount of syllables strung together could ever recreate that magic.’: Mom to nonverbal son with autism gushes ‘our love will never need words’
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