The one question that parents, with non-verbal children, always ask other parents is, “When did your child start to talk?”
I asked this question hundreds of times, to parents in my social circle, to professionals and in user community forums. Each time, I got a range of answers:
“Lots of children have speach delays”
“His older brother is probably speaking for him”
“My son didn’t talk and then just started speaking in sentences”
And the list went on. I kept reassuring myself that there was nothing wrong and that Rhys would speak in his own time.
After months of speach therapy and very slow progress, I was still extremely confused. I wanted to know the timelines for getting Rhys to talk, but it was all unknown and no one told me what to expect.
After loads of reading, I finally came across what I call “The Communication Pyramid”. As soon as I saw this, it all started to make sense.
Every person who learns to talk goes through different stages. We all start at the bottom of the pyramid being non-verbal and unaware of our surroundings. This was where Rhys was at 2 years old. Totally in his own world, zero sound and totally unengaged.
A child needs to move through all the levels of the pyramid to start communicating verbally. Some are quicker than others, and some (like Rhys) need the extra support to progress.
After seeing this image it made me realise that there were progress markers that would allow me to track against. Rhys was not going to wake up one morning and start speaking. He needed to move through the different stages.
In the case of Rhys, he was non-verbal at 2 years old. I distinctly remember that it took a lot of work on the first stage of the pyramid to even get him making a verbal sound. It was only when he was 3 years old that I heard a sound from him. Not a word but just a vocalisation. It took another year before his first word and then one more before we started to get a few two word phrases. We are still on the journey, but at least now I have something to track this against. It is a long road and not something that is going to happen over night.
The understanding and following of instruction is progressive. He started to understand certain instructions from 3 years old, and this is improving all the time.
I still cannot imagine asking Rhys “How was your day?” and getting a response. Every day after school I just need to assume it went well by the smile on his face.
I have no idea of any aspects of his day, or the names of any children in his class. I have to count on teachers letting me know of any issues, or his non verbal cues as to whether he is upset or unhappy.
I know it will come and it will be something I have waited years for. I am lucky in that Rhys is moving up the pyramid and through the continued hard work we all put in, he will reach the top in his own time. But we need to remember, you dont need to reach the top of the pyramid to communicate. It is a communication pyramid, where communication starts from the lowest layer even when words are not involved.