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Learning to Listen to My Son With a Disability

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About a week ago, I sent my son, Garrett, out with his worker (behavioral health professional) to spend a morning together to work on life skills and social interactions. They had a full morning planned of following a shopping list, baking brownies (one of his favorite activities), and then some fun time at the local park.

When they arrived back home, they both filled me in on their morning activities and the worker gave me a hand written note from Garrett that he had worked on while his brownies were in the oven. Now, anyone who knows my son knows how very difficult writing is for him — with a recent diagnosis of dysgraphia, we understand even more why this has been such a challenge for him over the years. So when he takes the time to sit down and write out a letter, it is more than a big deal. It is huge.

As I looked down at the paper, I could make out a few words, but knew I needed a little help deciphering the text as he still has a habit of overlapping words when writing. I called my son over and asked him what he wrote. He took the paper and very clearly stated:

Dear Mommy,

When I say no I do not need you.

Love, Garrett


I was floored. Not only had my child written a letter to me, but he desperately needed me to listen. And clearly, I was not.

My 8-year-old boy was telling me something very important. He was telling me he can make his sandwiches on his own, and please let him pour his milk in his own cup. He was saying I don’t have to hold his hand everywhere we go, he can do this. He was telling me to let go and I was not getting the message. We had been having some meltdowns around each of these activities leading up to this note, and I was missing his communication. I wasn’t listening, and he found a way to let me know.

I fully admit I am overprotective of both my children, but with my son, there are the added elements of being my baby and his disability. I keep him a little closer and hold on a little tighter with the best of intentions, but not always realizing by doing so, I am not giving him the room to grow.

Instead of letting him stretch his wings, I was clipping them, and he let me know he had enough of that. Thank goodness he did.

We, as parents, need to listen to our children. We need to listen to the words, but more importantly, we need to listen beyond the words.

So often our neurodiverse children communicate with us in such beautiful ways, but we miss it by being fixated on the verbal dialogue that we as a society call the norm. But our children find ways, whether it be writing, typing or through behaviors, to
communicate their needs and wants — and we need to hear them.

I cannot imagine how difficult it was for him to write this letter to me, but I do understand how important the message was. So important that he took the time to do so.

Not only did I need to hear his message, I needed his reminder that sometimes words are hard when he needs to express his feelings and I have to do a better job at listening to him communicate through whichever means he chooses.

He is going to continue to grow and change, especially with so many new and different things that are going to come his way – and I need to be ready to listen.  Most importantly, I need to allow him to experience the life that awaits him.

This morning I let him make his breakfast and pour his milk, even as it splashed all over the table. He calmly grabbed the closest towel and wiped it up with a huge smile on his face and pride in his eyes that he did this all on his own. And today when we go out, I will let him take my hand if he needs, but I will not push myself on him. I will let him grow and I will stand beside, ready in an instant if needed.  But most importantly, I will listen.  I will listen with so much more than my ears — I will listen with my heart, because that is what he needs from me.

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Originally published: October 17, 2017
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