When Your Child Can’t Tell You Where It Hurts


My son, Braxton, fell yesterday. I didn’t see how it happened. It’s not the first time he’s fallen, and I didn’t see it. But this time it was different. Only I didn’t know it.

Today, I got a call from the school nurse.

Nurse: “Have you seen Braxton’s foot?”

Me: Panic sets in. “His foot? Um, no? Why?”

Nurse: “He hasn’t been wanting to walk today.”

Me: “Oh yeah, I told his teacher that. He’s had a sinus infection, and we think his balance is off. He’s been a bit wobblier than usual.”

Nurse: “No, I think something is wrong. His foot is swollen. He won’t bear weight, and he cries when we try to move it.”

Mommy guilt immediately sets in. How did I not notice? He had therapy this morning, but none of us noticed. How in the world did this happen?

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Oh, right, Braxton fell yesterday. I didn’t see how it happened. He fell, and I heard a thud followed by a cry. I jumped up from the couch to check on him. He was sprawled on the floor with his head against the wall. I thought he hit his head. I checked for bumps and bruises. I checked his eyes. No vomiting or loss of consciousness. We’re good.

But I didn’t check his foot. I didn’t even think to check. He had no words to tell me to do so.

This morning he had therapy. He didn’t want to climb the stairs. In fact, he stiffened his leg and planted his feet. We thought he was just being stubborn as he often does.

In hindsight, I remember thinking he has sure been crawling around more than usual. I remember realizing his balance was off more than usual. I remember seeing him drag his foot as he walked.

I saw it but didn’t piece it together. I should have noticed. What kind of mother doesn’t notice? The kind of mother with a child who cannot express hurt and pain.

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I believe this is the hardest part of having a nonverbal child. The part where your child’s pain tolerance is so high he doesn’t flinch when the doctor tries to see where it hurts. The part where they end up taking 10 X-rays to check out the whole leg because he can’t tell us what part hurts.

The part where I feel helpless. The part where I feel like I failed my child. The part where the doctor says, “Well, we didn’t find anything. Just keep him off of the foot.” The part where I can see there is something more, but he can’t tell me and the doctors.

Of all the things I wish for my child, the one I wish for something fierce is a voice. Words to tell me when he hurts. Words to tell me when something is wrong. He’s not proficient with his talker yet, so that can only help so much. Days like today are frustrating.

I wish I could say I’m glad it wasn’t worse, but what if it is and we missed it? Braxton is clearly in pain when he tries to walk. His foot turns outward, and he kind of drags it behind him.

But the doctor says nothing is wrong. All they saw on the X-ray is a hip issue we knew about where the hip joint didn’t fully form. Is that why he is limping now? Did the fall somehow exacerbate that? I don’t know. The doc thinks so but can’t say for sure.

I wish Braxton could tell me. I wish I could make it better like a mom is supposed to. This is the only part of my son’s condition I regularly wish away.

Follow this journey on Journey Full of Life.

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