Being a parent of a child who is non-verbal

My son Tadhg was born with Cerebral Palsy and Global Developmental delay which affects him both physically and intellectually and as a result, Tadhg is non – verbal. We are constantly learning all the time from Tadhg, he has been our best teacher on this journey. We of course have been given tips over the years to help with his communication needs, but Tadhg has always invented his own way to communicate which amazes me all the time.
I think for Tadhg, because he is also physically disabled, it makes it that bit harder for him to express his needs. If he wanted to go over and play, he can’t just get up and go over – he needs our help to do these things and that’s why observation is so important. Tadhg can get left behind at times as he can’t shout out and say he wants to join in, he can’t walk over to join them either, so he relies heavily on other people noticing that he might want to be included in their fun.
We constantly observe Tadhg to figure out what he might want. I know if my daughter or younger son comes into the room, Tadhg instantly smiles and gets excited, he loves having them in the room as he knows they will come over and tickle him or offer him a toy to play with.
Being non-verbal has its many obstacles for Tadhg on a daily basis. Because Tadhg doesn’t speak, it is often assumed that he doesn’t understand what you are saying to him. Tadhg’s understanding is great and he may not be able to answer back but he will listen. What I have learnt as a parent to a non-verbal child is that language is just a small part of how we communicate. We communicate through our expressions, through our eyes, through a smile, gestures, body language. I have learnt so much from observation and to me that is the key, constant observation – it could be a movement of the leg, a wave of a hand or a pat at the mouth, a shout, a hair pull, to let you know a need. It’s becoming more aware and more sensitive to Tadhg’s needs and reading these signals and not just seeing it as a random movement but an expression of communication.
In an ideal world, language is obviously the easiest way to get your message across, but if we focus too much on that we’re going to miss the other forms of communication. It’s the simple things in life that matter, when Tadhg smiles it makes our day as we know we’ve done something right! Tadhg is our teacher and always will be!

Amanda Kehoe
Author of ‘TJ and his Wheelable Chair’