Expressive Language, Receptive Language, and Prayer

Zach turned 10 over the weekend. It makes me wonder where the time has gone. And it also makes me think about where he is in his development.
Years ago I read several different autism stories where a non-verbal child started speaking around age 8. I used to hold out hope that we would have a similar story. But Zach’s 8th birthday came and went. And here we are 2 years later still waiting for that dramatic breakthrough.
Even though he’s still not talking, he is progressing. On his birthday Zach handed me one of his balloons and said, “Here.” At first I didn’t realize it but Jan did. When she pointed it out I had to think about it. Yes, it did sound like “here” and not just a random grunt.
Zach has let loose with a few words over the years. And this is always how it is. Out of the clear blue, totally unexpected, he will say a word. It catches you off guard and you have to think about whether you really heard what you think you heard. And, of course, he never repeats it to confirm your suspicions, no matter how much you cajole him.
Every once in a while I am treated to hearing “Daddy.” It may just be random vocalization since it usually comes out “duh-DEE.” But he has said it while looking at me so I count it. Although less frequently, he has also said “Mom” and “Ma-ma” on occasion.
While it is debatable if he is purposefully using these spoken words, there is no doubt he knows how to say “shoes off” in sign language. This sign has become his default whenever he is trying to communicate with us and we just aren’t getting it. He might be trying to tell us something he needs with his video player. He will get frustrated with our inability to understand and sign, “shoes off!”
Even though Zach’s expressive language has only improved slightly, his receptive language has surged forward. He understands very well what I am saying. For example, without any contextual clues such as me holding a towel or pointing to the bathroom, I can just say “Let’s take a bath,” and he will dutifully head toward the tub. Now this happens most of the time, mind you, not all the time. Sometimes he just continues to sit there ignoring what I said. Jan says at those times he is just being a man.
Zach’s development of receptive language has been huge for us! When he starts to wander away in the store we can call his name and he will turn and come back to us. When Jan tells him to pause his iPad as they walk through the parking lot he obeys. Zach is safer because he is able to hear his parents and appropriately respond.
And that is how it is with our heavenly Father. It is important for me to develop my expressive language, the prayers I offer up to God. I need to practice speaking to God, glorifying him, interceding for others, sharing my needs, seeking his guidance and asking his forgiveness.
But it is even more crucial that I improve my receptive language. I need to be able to hear my Father speaking through his Word. I need to discern his voice in the preachers and teachers he has called. I need to recognize his Spirit’s whisper in my heart.
Once I heard a preacher speak of a hypothetical situation. He said that if he could only practice one spiritual discipline and was forced to choose between praying and studying the Scriptures, he would choose the Scriptures. Because, he said, it is far more important for us to hear what God has to say than for God to hear what we want to say.
I’m thankful that Zach has his priorities straight.


I Feel Sorry for Muggles

It was an awkward silence.  My mind raced to find something appropriate to say.  I need to be supportive and upbeat without belittling the enormity of their situation.  But what could I say?  I have no personal experience from which to draw.  The awkward pause continued.

The conversation had started with this young couple with all the standard pleasantries.  Where are you from?  What brings you to town?  What kind of work do you do?  Then it inevitably turned to talk of the family and their little girl.  Through the course of the discussion it became apparent.  I’m no doctor and I haven’t been trained as a therapist, but it was glaringly obvious from their descriptions and my experience in the autism community.

Their precious little daughter was…neuro-typical.

Everybody talks about how quickly children grow up.  But their child was surely destined to zoom into hyper-speed in short order.  I thought of all the developmental milestones that would whiz by them without their even knowing they existed.  They would be like other parents I have known, totally oblivious to the incomprehensible miracles happening in their child day by day.

“Did you see what he just did?”  I said excitedly to one dad.  “He was holding his sippy cup in his right hand and he crossed the midline with his left to pick up his toy!”  The dad shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the game.

“That was impressive,” I remarked to a mom.  “She completely understood and carried through with the 3 step instruction you just gave her.”  The mom looked back at me blankly.

Parents of typically developing kids just have no idea what they are missing.  They haven’t a clue how amazing it is for little eyes to take in the busy scene in a store, pick out an interesting object, desire to share their find with another person, and point that person in the right direction with an extended finger.  They have no concept of the wonderful complexity of motor planning required for a climb up onto the back of the sofa.  They have no idea of all the intricate processes that kick into gear to receive a spoken word, evaluate what was said, formulate an appropriate response, translate that desire into intelligible language, and vocalize it in a socially acceptable format.

For some children the milestones just click by at an ever increasing rate.  And some parents don’t even know what they’re missing.  I feel sorry for parents who miss their child’s astounding and yet daily achievements.