Hearts to Listen: Parenting a Non-Verbal Child

October 31, 2017 autism, cl/cp, Developmental System, non-verbal, October 2017 Feature - Developmental, older child adoption 4 Comments

I lie awake with a bewildered mind, but know the feeling that has been laid upon my face like I have been awake all day – I climb out of bed with the biggest smile looking up at me. She has been heard.

The feeling on my face is from my non-verbal child that has just awoken and wants my attention. She signs on my face to wake me.

This is my life – the life of parenting a child with limited speech, but full of ideas trying to burst out of a padlocked shell.

The shell is continually broken open and reveals ideas, thoughts, emotions, demands, and requisition, but is quickly forced to close after each idea has been released. The vicious, yet beautiful cycle, starts again and again. It takes copious amounts of hard work beyond anything that I can fathom to be heard. Every move is intentional from us as parents and siblings to communicate and make relationships – and she is a fighter.

My husband and I had talked many times about which medical needs we were open to and which we “couldn’t handle.” The number one need that was always going to be looked over was a non-verbal child. We found later – after seeing our potential child’s face – that our motives were selfish and that the child can and will almost always have a voice. We quickly proceeded with a file of a six-year old girl who was non-verbal, had cleft lip and palate, wasn’t potty-trained and had been neglected.

We didn’t know if she was deaf, autistic, would ever use the toilet or would ever communicate… and suddenly, none of that mattered. We would be her parents.

The child we met in China wasn’t the child that was in the orphanage. And the child we met in China wouldn’t be the child that we would bring home. Or the child we would now see nine months later.

When we met, Evie was already a child that could speak in squeals, kisses, hugs, giggles and screams – the orphanage staff just didn’t see that. She had a voice and she was always heard – always. Perhaps, that is always just what she needed – someone to listen, cry, laugh, praise, play and care. We signed up for that – we were thankfully those people.

What I didn’t know was that this child would help us to grow in our walk. Since bringing Evie home, we aren’t living our lives to keep up with social events and the highest achievements in a typical society – we’ve been living our lives clapping and crying when she said a new word. Or shrieking in joy when she took more than three steps without falling. She learned slowly how to eat solids and then eventually, digest them – and we all were there, clapping with joyful hearts. This is perspective and I don’t know where my life would be without God unveiling joy in the midst of pain, trials and journeys I didn’t really want to go on.

The Lord led us on the journey of adoption in 2015 with our first adopted child. I’d always wanted to adopt, but I didn’t want to adopt an older child. I didn’t want to adopt a child with special needs, or risk being in counseling every week with an unattached child, or drive to hospitals every week. And I certainly didn’t really want to do it all over again, but the Lord asked us and we obeyed and His grace filled us until our cup abundantly overflowed because that’s what happens when you listen and go. So sure, we wanted to adopt – on our terms. The Lord laughed.

While in Beijing, touring with our family before getting Evie, we ventured to the Hutong, which is old Beijing area of unique housing. In the hutong, we visited a family’s house and saw all their pets as well as living quarters. One of the pets really drew us in – a raven. The raven was in a bird cage and would imitate your words. We quickly tried out the bird’s talent and it repeated “Ni hao!” Evie’s advocacy name was “Raven” with her agency, perhaps because of her silken, black hair. A friend pointed out that the raven was speaking and encouraged us that maybe Evie would as well. We were hopeful!

A few months ago I was teaching the children about various birds and something in me wanted to research on my own – the raven. Research showed that ravens communicate with their beaks and wings just as humans do. They show one another food and point with their wings to name a few gestures. They also touch beaks together, strengthening the bond between one another. Those ravens can sign – just like my Evie girl!

Evie came to us with one word, “Mama” and it wasn’t lost on me. She now has seven words and forty-eight signs a quick nine months later. Our lives are intentional 24/7 to bring her to her potential. Every single moment is a learning moment and it’s exhausting, but it has to be done and who better to do it than the person that knows her best. It is a privilege.

The hardest quality of this special need is the fighting – the fighting for services, the fighting for someone to care like they would for their child, the advocating for medical tests, resources, and making sure nothing has fallen between the cracks. If we didn’t have to fight, we could spend so much more time and energy on the child that deserves it.

When we stop trying to listen with our ears and we listen with our hearts, we can hear our children speak. A wise friend once suggested me keeping a journal of every single thing that Evie did. My pencil quickly burnt a hole in that paper and I reluctantly closed that journal for good. She was making tremendous progress and It felt so good to close that little, silk book indefinitely.

During that season of writing, I would look back to see how far she’s come with tears streaming down my face and spilling onto the paper. I call that little book my “fears to tears book.” Fear is what started that book. Fear that resonated in many other adoptive moms that understood and their prayers and presence held me in those moments. The day I said to myself “she will never…” as I slumped to the couch, was the day that my pencil wrote in “potty-trained.” I said on that day “I will never live in fear!”

A jubilant life is all about perspective and I’m so thankful that God removed the scales from my eyes while breaking chains and releasing freedom.

I think about how different our family would be without Evie and I shudder. We homeschool and we are all together throughout the day. On any given day I will see a brother slow dancing with her in the kitchen, a sister helping her throw grain to the chickens, another brother teaching her a new sign that he eagerly picked up or a sister begging me to let them dress her in her pajamas. They simply love her. She is a blessing and I cannot imagine us being too afraid to say “yes.”

She has changed my heart and I find myself being so much more courageous than I ever was before. I know that I can truly do aLL things through Christ. We might do things a little differently as a family than other people, but I can honestly say that that is one of my favorite things about us. We follow what is best for our family no matter who tries to tell us differently.

God definitely used a non-verbal child from the other side of the world to open our eyes to so many important things. How awesome is that? She is worthy. She is a mouthpiece for the Lord without ever opening her mouth.

Talking is overrated – communication isn’t.

She communicates through signing, her radiant smile, her rolling eyes, the belly laugh from the deepest part of her soul and her stomping foot! She has ideas, thoughts, motivations, messages, interests, nurture, and obedience. She is our dream come true!

In 1 Kings, God commanded the ravens to bring food to Elijah and the ravens came. They didn’t come by chance, but by direction. The ravens didn’t bring a surplus for Elijah, but they brought enough for a day. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The Lord will give us enough for our day. May He give us grace, perspective, love, joy, strength, peace and ……hearts to listen.

– guest post by Allison

4 responses to “Hearts to Listen: Parenting a Non-Verbal Child”

  1. Tammy Beal says:

    Such a beautiful story….written by the most beautiful, unselfish person I know.

  2. Kimberly Schildbach says:

    I am so moved by your post! Our daughter Anelia (home in 2014 from Bulgaria, fully blind, age 9 now) is still non verbal. She does tactile sign and we love it!
    Thank you for writing this!

  3. Connie Waguespack says:

    Yet another thing you have made me realize. Your story is awesome. Through God and you sharing your family on FB I stop and think “What an Awesome God”. You and your husband are amazing. I never have met such selfless people. I often think“how does she do it”
    ….with the help of our FATHER!

    • Allison Wiliams says:

      Connie, you are so very special to me and you know that. You are a large part of our story. I need to share some newest things with you to show you how God has worked through what you did. 8 more children have been adopted because of you.

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