“Communication is the Name of the Game”

I love good conversation.  I love really listening, being listened to, and the magical feeling I get when ideas are being shared and realized.   When two or more people are engaged in creative verbal interaction something comes alive in me.  But I don’t think I really knew true communication until the birth of my boy Hank.

Hank was born with extremely low muscle tone as a result of a chromosomal condition.  Since speech is the finest motor skill, it is one that he has not been able to master. 

When Hank was a baby I was blessed to receive advice from my sister Pat Cleaver, an incredibly gifted speech/language pathologist.  Patty said, “Keep talking to him Mo.”  So even when Hank reached and passed the age where other little ones were talking up a storm and he hadn’t begun to form words, I kept on talking.  I made up ridiculous love songs that I sang to him, adding wild trills and silly cadences.  While I sang and talked I could feel him communicating right on back to me.  The love connection was strong.  Our seemingly one-sided conversations were not one-sided at all.

Since Hank’s muscle tone is so low  he couldn’t form a smile for quite some time, but he had this chirping sound that he would make that sounded like a little bird.  I knew that this was a happy sound.  As he grew he developed a tongue click and a clap for yes.   He also created an ‘all done’ sign.  All of these are very reliable.  And to this day he shakes his knees in and out when he’s happy.  His father and I affectionately refer to this as “happy knees.”  

When Hank was two and a half Patty told me that she thought he could read.  I was astounded.  It was obvious by now that he loved books very much, but it had never occurred to me that he might be actually reading them.   Pat told me about a method that she had heard about called Facilitated Communication.  Doug Biklen, Dean of the School of Education and Director of the Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse University, had gone to Australia to learn about this method.   While there he was convinced that it could be a viable means of self-expression for those in need of alternatives to speech.  (I do not have the words to express my gratitude to this man for bringing the method home with him.)  So we tried it with Hank on a keyboard, supporting his hand and helping him form a point with his finger so that he could type…and he did.

So off we went to every conference and training we could find, got him a Cannon Communicator (a now obsolete keyboard that printed out what he typed) and set to work.  FC proved very quickly to be a validated and viable means of communication for him.  To this day it is the only way that Hank can share thoughts and ideas that are beyond simple choice making.   It is through this method that he has the opportunity to express himself complexly.

But let me say that what I have learned most from Hank about communication is that there is so much more to conversation than words.  This may seem obvious, and I think even before Hank I would have been the first to agree that words are just one piece of communicating.  But living with someone for whom speech is not a functional option changed my perception of personal interchange immeasurably.   What Hank is able to portray in a hug, a kiss, and especially a look is communication at it’s most raw and poignant.  

If I move too quickly I will miss so much.  It’s so important that I listen to all of Hank.  There is so much in his face, his body movements, his eyes. Wanting to understand him as much as I possibly can forces me to slow down and really pay attention.  And when I do I feel that creation of communication that is so lovely and strong and filled with the spirit of God.  And I believe that this has strongly impacted how I interact and listen to all people, as long as I remember that if I move too quickly I might just miss a nuance, an implication, or that all important punch line.

So once again, thank you Hank for teaching me so much. Thank you for your patience, your love, and your endless understanding.  You take me to higher heights every day.  You rock, you roll, and you have the happiest knees on the planet.



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rod Coffey March 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm

You are such a beautiful woman Maureen


admin March 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Thank you so much Rod…that touches me deeply.


martyklueber March 11, 2013 at 10:49 pm

remember,,,not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say. very proud of my boy,,,,,keep those knees happy!!


admin April 6, 2013 at 12:22 am

We are two very blessed parents you and I!:)


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