I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m at the doctor’s office with my son. He is 18 months old and doesn’t have more than 10 words in his vocabulary. He points and hums for most of the things that he wants. I am a first time mother and clueless as to how far his speech should really be. I’m tired, exhausted, worried…
Fast forward six months and my son has regressed. He doesn’t have any words. What. Is. Happening? I’m told we need a referral for speech therapy. I hear the word autism for the first time. Little did I know the long road that would begin from there.
I call the therapy clinic. A 6 month wait? He is already so behind. I panic. Anxiety consumes and I am left feeling helpless. What did I do wrong? I never laid him in front of the TV, I read books, sang songs, played him music, and yet here we are in a purgatory of the unknown. A grey area of white noise and I can’t help but to tell myself, “I don’t know how to help my son find his voice.”
“Wake up, woman.”, I tell myself one morning as I’m feeling my drive slip away. This isn’t a time to feel sorry for myself. I hurt for my kid, yes, but he needs me to be strong. He needs me to be his voice. For now. Maybe forever. Whichever it is, I’m going to be alright with it. I accept it. I pick up the phone to call our school district and immediately get help for early intervention. In home therapy starts almost instantly. First a speech language pathologist and then an occupational therapist to follow.
I hear the word autism for the second time.
Without hesitation, I ask for answers. I ask for my son to be evaluated. Here we are, taking a road less traveled, an unknown path. The forest is dark and there are no signs telling me which way to go. My husband and I are learning all of these things and at the same time, our son is getting the help he needs. The fog clears and for the first time I felt like it was all going to be okay. After all, our son was getting help.
The therapy clinic calls. “We have an opening for you son, when can we make him an appointment?”
It was like the clouds opened and heaven sang.
More help. More support for my precious boy. We began outpatient therapy the next week.
The evaluation is done. Two months shy before his third birthday. “Oakley is on the autism spectrum.” The third time I hear the word autism.
After an eight hour evaluation and a two week wait, we had an answer.
The truth is, even after we got the diagnosis, I didn’t know how to help my son find his voice. I would ask myself, “Would he ever talk? Would he ever say mama or I love you?”
I couldn’t answer that.
But I could hope.
I could pray.
I could believe.
I told one of my son’s therapist this one day. I explained to her that I’m doing everything I can at home to give him a means of communication. He’s learned some sign language and we have lots of visuals and picture exchange cards. I told her I don’t know how to help him find his voice, but in our own way, we are creating our own way to communicate.
She then told me words I will never forget.
“You are helping him. You are doing everything you can and most importantly, you’re loving him and believing in him.”
I had to think about what she said for a minute.
She was right.
At the end of that day, I thought a lot about what she had said and I came to the conclusion again that everything was going to be okay. It did not matter if Oakley stayed nonverbal or one day found his voice, no matter what, it was going to be okay. I just had to keep doing what I was doing.
I’m asked a lot, “How did you get your son to find his voice?” I will tell you, I’m no magician. I didn’t snap my fingers and one day he started to talk. It took years of hard work on his part and lots of time and dedication on my part to make sure Oakley had every bit of resource to help him find his voice. I believed it could happen. I prayed for it while in the back of my mind, I accepted the alternative that he may never find his words and we would have to expand our means for increasing communication.
I didn’t get held up on the thought of never hearing him say certain words and sentences. I longed for it, but somewhere along the lines I had to be okay. I had to accept. You may have heard it before, but Love needs no words. And it’s true. I can’t begin to tell you all of the ways Oakley communicates, without using words. Even to this day, now that he is verbal, he speaks so much with his actions, his verbal stims, and his undying affection.
I didn’t know how to help my son find his voice. Yet the whole time, I didn’t know that just by believing in him and accepting him no matter if he found his voice or not, right there, I was helping him all along.