What It Means to Be Not-Quite-Verbal

The Boy's self portraitThe Boy is verbal. He can speak in short and long sentences, has quite a vocabulary, and is an incredible speller. But not always.

When he was a toddler, he didn’t have as many words as his peers, and we ended up in speech therapy. We used flash cards to get him to learn nouns and actions. He went to speech twice a week for several years.

He now loves words, and particularly loves word play, and puns and jokes where double entendres are at the center. But, there are times when he cannot speak. There are times when it seems he refuses to answer. His teachers encounter this often, and it isn’t (as they too often assume) because he doesn’t know the answer. He simply can’t.

And he wants to.

A few Halloweens ago, he was trick-or-treating with friends and I was following with another mom. A couple of giggly girls recognized The Boy, and came up to say hi. After they went off in a different direction, I asked him about them. “Who were they?” No response. Knowing he probably knew but couldn’t tell me, I tried not to make it a big deal and we continued on our way. Shortly after, we arrived at a house with two cars parked in the driveway. “Mom!” he said. “Er, look,” he said, pointing to one of the cars. “You know, the girls…” he said. He was giving me a clue, and excited he had a chance to communicate with me. After a little back and forth, I realized the car was a Lexus… and the girl’s name was “Alexis”. Then he told me the other girl’s name¬†through another clue (she had the same first name as his favorite teacher from elementary school).

If you first understand that there are times when he can’t speak, and then also understand that he wants to, and finally give him the opportunity to give you clues, communicating is possible. It requires understanding and patience, though. And discrete labels aren’t helping, either. So I’ll stick with “Not-Quite-Verbal,” and keep working towards understanding.