UNMASKED: Speaking From The Heart

August 05, 2023

Nonverbal communication comes in many forms, and that includes speaking from the heart, which transcends spoken words.

In the last three years, one of the most important lessons that I learned is that communication comes in many unconventional forms. While verbal communication is of utmost value, my little boy Miguel taught me that communicating from the heart is a more profound means of speaking to another person. That’s because Miguel is a nonverbal autistic child but that doesn’t mean that Miguel is not expressive. He has touched our lives in many ways and he has taught us a lot of lessons countless times.

Father and son bonding

UNMASKED: Speaking From The Heart

    Finding Miguel’s Voice


    You see, right at the onset of the pandemic, Miguel was diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay (which means a delay in more than one developmental milestone, including speech delay), which was eventually verified by the doctor to be caused by his autism.

    Since then, it has always been our family’s quest to teach and encourage Miguel to talk, as well as, gain independence in activities of daily living. In a sense, it’s a journey toward finding Miguel’s voice. Then again, the situation during the height of the lockdowns was not in our favor because of Miguel’s on-and-off sessions in therapy.

    It’s a good thing that after months of persisting, just very recently, we were finally able to secure a slot for him in a speech therapy class. We are aware that nothing is definite in the future but this gave us hope that Miguel will be able to speak after all. It’s a long way to go but it’s a good start; the effort to try often leads to opportunities. There may not necessarily be magnificent things waiting for us in the end but we are sure that our desire to move forward is already success in itself.

    So, if you ask me if there’s an interview that I dream of doing, it’s with Miguel. I don’t really imagine it to be anything grand; a simple father-and-son conversation would already mean the world to me. With our situation though – the delays in therapy and all – I know that that interview will have to wait for a few more years. 

    As a matter of fact, I’m not even certain if it will ever happen — at least in the conventional sense. Just the same, I know that we will be able to have that conversation someday. For now, I’m content that we are able to make a connection with Miguel through wordless communication.

    Wordless but not meaningless


    I believe that for many people, the idea of wordless communication remains an abstract concept. I previously shared that same view with most people, that is until I became a special needs dad.

    Brothers playing with balloons

    Miguel came into our lives; he taught us that communication goes beyond conventional words or languages. While I do talk to Miguel all the time (like asking him how his school went, what he would like to eat, and so on), his responses would come in different forms like sounds, gestures, a simple touch, and a bright smile. It might come as a surprise to some folks that our way of communicating is actually quite diverse (and I would say creative).

    Whenever he wanted a toy or food, he would tug at my hand and lead me to that item. I remember one time when we couldn’t seem to understand each other; he looked at me with big, round eyes and a meaningful gaze. He then flashed a smile and proceeded to laugh a big, hearty laugh. Right there and then, I understood that everything was all right and I need not worry that I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me.

    If he wasn’t feeling well, Miguel’s way of telling me that was a big hug and a gesture for me to carry him. He would cry at times but when he felt soothed while I carried him, I would feel his body relax and be at ease.

    In all of those moments, I could feel that our bond as father and son would become stronger. We didn’t need to talk (again, in the conventional sense) but we would often connect with each other even in the absence of words from Miguel.

    Yes, the flow of words in our daily chats at home may be one-way but that doesn’t mean our conversations are meaningless. In truth, I’d go as far as saying that our conversations are filled with colors and meaning. It’s also true that we are teaching Miguel to live independently but we’ve realized that we are also learning a lot from him.

    Being a special needs parent is no walk in the park – we lose our patience a lot, we lose sleep on many nights, and it can be financially, mentally, and emotionally draining. Just the same, taking care of a special needs child is really fulfilling. We learned to appreciate and celebrate our small wins; baby steps may be small but they are still forward movements. We always tell ourselves that no matter how slow, we will eventually get to our destination.

    Kindness transcends words


    Whenever I read stories and social media posts about autism, especially about nonverbal autistics, the message that always stands out is that autistic individuals may not understand the words we say at all times but they sure can feel kindness. They know when a person is treating them kindly and they respond positively to that. They feel another person’s good heart. If you ever get the opportunity to be with an autistic child, you can observe that they will easily warm up to you if you talk to them gently and treat them with sincerity.

    Little boy Miguel

    The same is true at home. Miguel would feel the tension if we were stressed at home. Likewise, he would cry if he heard us yelling, especially if we sounded angry. On the other hand, Miguel would always have a sunny disposition whenever we were all cheery at home.

    As parents, we are in a privileged position to mold our children to be kind individuals. We should teach our children to treat each other with respect and kindness, especially those who are not typical in terms of abilities. This is a personal advocacy that I strongly push. I want other people to treat Miguel with compassion, and the best way to begin that is at home by teaching his little brother to treat his Kuya Miguel, as well as, other children kindly.

    We, his family, will be Miguel’s voice


    As a parent, it breaks my heart to see that Miguel is still unable to speak at the age of five. If I can give my voice to him, I will gladly do it. Alas, that is asking for a phenomenon to happen. Nevertheless, we will always be here for him.

    We will continue to support him in this quest to find his voice. In the meantime, we will continue to be his voice for as long as he needs us to be. Likewise, we will keep on pushing for inclusiveness for special needs individuals in our society. 

    We will continue to contribute, even in our little way, in our advocacy to inform other Filipinos about what autism is. We believe that if other people understood neurodiverse individuals, they would know how to deal with them in many situations. In the end, we will be Miguel’s voice in telling our fellow individuals to treat each other kindly.

    ***

    I'm happy and proud to share that this story won 11th place in this season's Write To Ignite Blogging Project.

    Write to Ignite Season 3 Certificate of Achievement for Ivan Jose

    ***

    UNMASED Write To Ignite Season 3

    This story is an entry to COMCO Mundo’s “UNMASKED: The COMCO Mundo Write to Ignite Season 3”. The initiative aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities. “UNMASKED” aims to explore how each mask is a person brimming with hope and wonders to share with others, as well as why it is important to tell their inspiring journeys in life. The “Write to Ignite” Season 3 is made possible by COMCO Mundo League of Enterprises, with airasia, Babyflo, PHILUSA Corporation, Century Tuna, Licealiz, Lamoiyan Corporation, Rémy Martin, and Uratex Monoblock as brand partners.

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    8 comments

    1. Miguel will do very well with such loving parents. I think not being able to speak could spur him to excel in many areas.

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    2. It's true we all communicate regardless of if we use words. Miguel is blessed to have a family that will be his voice and is advocating for him.

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    3. Hey, I'm new to your blog, so I wasn't aware of this heartwarming facet. :) My son was also delayed regarding speech, mostly because he hears 4 languages as a child. Nevertheless, it was not a hindrance as he communicated well later on. I know, this is uncalled for, but removing sugar (in all forms - carbs, fructose) will help improve things. Miguel is surely loved, that matters a lot to him.

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    4. Your story is touching. I know some kids cannot talk till 3 years old but they grow well and at some aspects, they are even better than normal.

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    5. This post resonates us on a personal level, offering insights into the unique experience of being a special needs parent. It celebrates the small victories, such as securing a slot in speech therapy, while emphasizing the importance of persistence and the hope for further progress. Thank you for sharing this.

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    6. Miguel is truly blessed, this is such a really touching story. Thanks for sharing this with us

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    7. Your son will do great and you will get your wish one day. My daughter was born deaf and got cochlear implants when she was 4. She was able to learn how to talk with tons of speech therapy. I’ve heard sign language is great for non verbal autistic kids.

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