Friday, July 25, 2014

No One Knows The Words A Child Cannot Say

The disability world has its fair share of inspirational quotes. Some are actually inspiring, some are trite, and  a few are downright dangerous. The quote below (popular among some mothers of nonverbal children) falls solidly into the dangerous category.

"A mother knows the words her child cannot say."

First, this is inaccurate. While I wish that I knew the words my children could not say, that's just impossible. Come over any day this week and watch my almost-two-year-old rage against my ignorance by tantrumming loudly on the floor when I hand him the not-the-one-he-was-thinking-of toy from the too-tall-to-reach shelf. He'll be happy to point out that parents are not always accurate mindreaders. And he's only two. If I can't even predict which toy he wants when he's pointing and whining, how could I possibly predict the complex (and sometimes random) thoughts of my 6 year old, who has very limited speech? 

But more than inaccurate, there is a danger in quotes like this. This says "Mom, you've got this. Be secure in knowing that your connection to your child is stronger than language. You know what s/he can't say. Don't worry." But, well, that's clearly not true. I'm not a mindreader, and neither are you. And by sharing and promoting images like this one, we are (unintentionally, of course) spreading the idea that a) the child's thoughts are simple enough to be consistently accurately predicted and b) we shouldn't be (doggedly, enthusiastically, urgently) pursuing some sort of AAC that can provide them with a way to say exactly what they want to say, all of the time, to anyone.

So if this isn't an ideal image to share, what would be? I have a few ideas:

This is a bit more accurate:

Because it's not just about moms:

Because 80s rap enhances any meme:

In case you're not familiar with 80s rap:

This is certainly true for me:

And to include dads, too: 

And here's one if you're a really big fan of details:

For the dads, too:

And guess what, SLPs? While researching this post, I also stumbled across this dangerous saying, targeted at you and yours:

Don't worry---I made a new one for you, too:

Because the bottom line is this:

There. Much better.

Edited to add: The Facebook album of these memes also contains several others: for friends, teachers, therapists, SLPs, caregivers, ones that say "mum", and few others. 

These will be up in an album on our Facebook page, and also have their own board on Pinterest.


Vicki Clarke said...

Love it!

Unknown said...

This is at least as dangerous as the related meme I see so often that 'parents always best for their child'.

Renee' said...

How about:

Has the Right to Speak Their Mind

Briana and Bella said...

Ooh! I love it!

AACfamily said...

Would it be inappropriate to say I want to kiss you?

Anonymous said...

Wow! May I include a link to this in a website I’m creating? It’s for parents/anyone who want to know more about autism and is a doorway to AUTISTIC voices / bloggers and neurodiversity friendly parents/professionals. The website is under construction but the facebook page (Autistikids) is up and running - full of links to the same type of posts. I can be reached at if you have any questions. Thank you!

Carole said...

Nailed it!

Unknown said...

This is awesome. I saw that little saying and wanted to choke the woman who posted it. One of the many times we REALLY wished we were mind readers; Nathan, 12 (Autism. Also have 2 w/Aspergers and 5 other children), was about 4 and fell. He grabbed his arm and wailed for dear life. We got outside of the hospital doors (an hour away) before he stopped screaming and said, "Red light, blue light" while waving both arms. When he's hurting/sick is the worst. It crushes my very soul. You totally nailed it (as Carole said)! Great blog!

Toni said...

Biggest load of bs going

Parents can do more harm than good

Adult with cp

Toni said...

People need to stop believing you need to use hands to sign. I don't use a dictionary app on my iPhone instead.

Adult with cp

Anonymous said...

So much love. <3

Rachel said...

Access to AAC is amazing but there are those for whom it is beyond their ability and then it is down to us to find the words.

AAC: because sometimes mum's, therapists and everyone else have no freaking idea. But then for those cognitively unable to access AAC, respect to the mum's, therapists and everyone else who try and understand those unspoken words. Even when they get it wrong.

Vic at Blossom and Snowflakes said...

Thanks for posting this. It's so true. My 4-year-old has literally just stopped screaming after half an hour because I just didn't get it. Something to do with an umbrella and a shop, but all my guesses were wrong... Same thing happened yesterday although I understood in the end. I wish other people understood.

Anonymous said...

Also, kids need to be able to communicate with more than one person.