I was going to post this on Mother’s Day, but May wasn’t a month I was up to blogging.
Lady Bug is what I call “minimally communicative.” She speaks some words; quite a variety, actually. But the majority of her communication is asking for what she wants. Whether it’s asking for more juice, certain foods, the dvd she wants, or to initiate the scripted interaction, most of the time she’s telling me what to do. She will verbally stim saying “I love you” but it doesn’t seem to hold the same meaning to her that it does to us.
I know there are a lot of parents out there who will never hear their child even echoing those words. Who would really appreciate the validation and connection, but don’t receive it. Maybe it helps that Lady Bug is my third child and not my first; I’m a lot more secure in my relationship with my kids now than when I was a first time mom. But I thought I’d share some of the ways that I know my daughter loves me, even when she doesn’t use words to tell me, so that maybe others could see that their child is saying it to them, too.
- I’m her person. Yes, moms are usually the default parent, but this goes beyond that. Beyond walking past Daddy to go all the way upstairs to get me to change her dvd. If I’m not home she doesn’t ask Daddy for half the things she normally asks me in the same amount of time. I’m the only one she allows to brush her hair, as I’m the one who has the track record of “Hairbrush 1-2-3.” Lady Bug trusts me. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
- I speak “Lady Bug.” We have a language we have developed together over the past two years. That language is full of scripts and references. Have you seen the Star Trek: Next Generation episode “Darmok” where Captain Picard goes down to a planet to try to learn to talk to the alien captain that only speaks in phrases that are references to their history? If you don’t know the story, the words don’t make any sense. It’s kind of like that. She’s using scripts in a way that might not be obvious to others; but I know what she means because I’ve been hearing her shows over and over….and over again. There are also scripted social interactions that has her saying a letter and then I am supposed to do a very specific interaction. She only does that with me. She knows I understand. And because of that understanding, she initiates more and more.
- She’s really physical with me. Sure, she touches complete strangers when she’s using them like furniture. But when it comes to people she knows, Lady Bug doesn’t usually initiate physical contact. Touching her brothers is such a rare thing we all get really excited when she does it. She and Daddy have a few things they do. But with me, if I’m around she’s either on my back like a little monkey, or pushing on me with her feet, or some other physical contact. At least 20 times a day I’m taking her somewhere on my back.
- Prolonged attention; I really feel like our joint attention activities wouldn’t be possible with a stranger. With a few, always notable exceptions, she doesn’t even look at strangers. Perhaps over time a school teacher could establish a rapport with her; but public teachers don’t have that kind of time to give one-on-one to relationship build before they attempt to teach. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so grateful we can homeschool; Lady Bug can learn from someone she cares about and knows over her lifetime, rather than a new person to get used to every year (or less.) Her willingness to not just do her own thing but to also try my thing is an indicator of relationship, in my mind.
- Checking to see if I’m there/watching when we’re out of the house. She didn’t always do that. For a few terrifying years she would just take off and it didn’t seem to matter if I was right behind her or not. Then she went through a stage where when you called her name she ran faster away. Boy am I glad those days are over! But beyond no long eloping as much, her occasional looking at me out of the corner of her eye, or running to me when something startles her, or just checking in with me all tell me that she cares that I’m there. That I make her feel safe and good in an unpredictable world.
Lady Bug is very independent and self contained. She is capable of entertaining herself for hours at a time at home. Some days she doesn’t say anything to another person beyond asking for food, drink, and dvd changes. But I am secure in our relationship that we have built. Our understanding of one another. The feeling of safety in a confusing world; a safety that gives her the security to try new things with me. If you’ve been working on your relationship with your nonverbal or minimally communicative child and they’re not constantly actively resisting you, then your child is probably telling you they love you, too. It may just look differently than you might expect.