Tips for Communicating with Non-Verbal Kids

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We don’t tend to go out to eat much because we rarely have a good experience and by the end of the meal we’re all rather annoyed. Being totally honest it has nothing to do with the kids’ behavior but rather those around us. But several weeks ago we decided to take the kids out to dinner to celebrate some event or other. We were seated at the table and from the get go things were different. Our server was AMAZING and not just from a food service perspective. Typically when we go out to dinner or anywhere for that matter (including hospitals) people don’t know how to interact with Gavin. So they both ignore him and don’t even acknowledge he is there, they look right through him or they stare at him. Gavin doesn’t like it and his siblings certainly don’t like it.

Well not that Friday night my friends! Our server, Pamela engaged with Gavin as much as she did with the rest of us! I could tell by the look on his face that he felt included and heard. He was super “chatty” and animated – especially when Pamela was at our table. I of course sent corporate an email expressing our delight and thanks but also sent an email to the regional and general manager for the location we went to bragging about Pamela.

Sadly, these types of encounters are few and far between. Even when we go to hospitals (children’s hospitals) I am the one being acknowledged and Gavin ignored. We have only been to one hospital where everyone acknowledges Gavin before me. At an ED visit a few weeks ago it was the same old, same old. While he received great care both the resident and the attending (who we’ve known since she was a resident!) didn’t know how to deal with him. I told them he is non-verbal but if asked a question he will respond as best he can but that yes/no questions are easier for him (when we don’t have his talker). They continued to ask me questions that he could – and would have – answered if they had asked him. He may need to communicate a little differently but he CAN communicate and should be treated with the same respect everyone else gets.

Communicating with someone who is non-verbal is actually very simple. People who are non-verbal share the same thing that we ALL share – the desire to be acknowledged and included. So when you see someone like Gavin out and about – don’t stare and don’t ignore. Simply say “hello”. Chances are real good that you’ll be rewarded with a great smile (and just have made that person’s and their caregivers day!)

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