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When I Was a Nonverbal Child With Autism

I would be lying to you if I said being a nonverbal child was easy. It was anything but easy. Imagine being unable to tell your parents you were in pain, or being unable to scream for help if someone tried to grab you. These are just two of many experiences nonverbal children may go through on the daily, two of the many things people who can speak often take for granted.

I found myself in many of these situations as a child. I was once rolled down a steep hill in a rusty barrel by my then-teenage siblings. As I could not communicate to them that I did not want to do it, they never understood I was afraid until I shed blood. Maybe if I could have talked I would have never needed a visit to the emergency room. Maybe my leg wouldn’t be scarred up.

These painful occurrences lasted for years, as I simply could not learn to speak for myself. I struggled to learn the most basic of sounds until I finally was given the education I needed, not the education others assumed I needed. It wasn’t long after being introduced to a learning environment that encouraged me to speak through fun games, snacks and rewards that I began to show the progress I had never truly shown before.

This environment understood that children need to be encouraged to learn, and have that learning celebrated instead of having someone drill lessons into them. I was rewarded for my effort to understand and retain new words. In the years before I entered a teaching environment based on behavioral therapy, I was in an environment that emphasized teaching like a military instructor instead of peers celebrating together over their success.

This never worked for me as I have always lacked the desire to speak to others — despite needing to, despite suffering due to it. I did not know what a word was or that it was a tool to communicate with others. But despite my lack of desire, having someone encourage me to learn meant I did have a goal that led to me trying. Without being given something to work towards, I would have never learned to speak. I thank my teachers and my therapists for that.

Getty image by LeManna.

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