A few minutes spent in the present moment with Ella is all you need to know what she’s trying to say.
This child is silent and sweet. She’s 2 years old, and has an angelic and rosy face with kind, brown eyes framed by tight curls.
Ella has been diagnosed with Developmental Apraxia, a neurological motor speech impairment, a breakdown in the transmission of messages from the brain to the muscles in the jaw, cheeks, lip, tongue and palate. She knows what she wants to say, but there is a roadblock obstructing the signal from the brain to the mouth. The muscles ignore, or don’t hear, what the brain commands.
In plainer language, Ella doesn’t talk, barely makes sounds.
To give Ella another way to express herself, she is learning American Sign Language (ASL). At the same time, Ella maintains a busy schedule with occupational, physical and speech therapists, who help her cross thresholds that most of us have done unaided. She is learning to decipher the brain signals, learning to do and say.
It’s slow progress. And her anxious parents look on, and dream of hearing words flow from her mouth consistently, like “mama” or “dada” or “bye-bye.” Her mom, who has a master’s degree in social work and works every day with children, knows the journey ahead. She’s optimistic because she has seen good results with other kids.
Yet there is still doubt and worry about what Ella’s life will be like in school a year or two from now. When other children are calling to each other, screaming as they run and play in the yard, will Ella yet be silent? So now there is talk of more aggressive therapy,
Talking is fine and good. Yet there are some things that are more beautifully conveyed, more deeply known — without words. And here Ella is a master communicator.
For one, there is the language of play.
If you are sitting in a room, and music suddenly floats in from another room in the house, Ella will come running to where you sit, reach for your finger, pull you up and take you to the source of the beat. And, as she begins to dance, she’ll look up with hopeful expectation that you, too, will do the same.
And then there is the way she shows generosity.
If you enter Ella’s house, she may not run to greet you with a hug or kiss; she’s more likely to drop her head in shyness or run and hide. Yet, it’s not long before she warms to you. She sets about retrieving one toy after another, offering them to you in friendship — until her little treasures begin to overflow in your arms.
There is, too, Ella’s love language. And she speaks it with her face and hands.
If you engage her in play, and spend a few moments of presence with her, she will tilt her head to gaze at you and smile with her eyes. It’s as if she’s thinking: “You are so sweet to play with me!”
Sometimes, if she is really pleased, she will cross her arms, grabbing her upper arms with her hands — in the ASL gesture for “hug.”
And lately, Ella has been speaking the language of the divine. She has been expressing her gratitude for her parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Ella has become intrigued by the sound of the Hindi saying “Namasté” — “I bow to the divine within you.” A bow accompanies the saying. It’s a ritual of respect.
In her busy day of therapy and coaching and meals and play, Ella will occasionally stop, and with hands together at chest level in prayer, bow to those before her — even if she keeps the “namasté” to herself.
With her silent “namasté,” Ella is bowing to the divine inside those who spend time listening to her, even if she makes no sounds. And when she does that, the divine in Ella comes through, too.
[Don Munro (Munrodh@gmail.com) lives in New York and Vermont. He is a public relations and communications consultant to businesses. In his spare time, he writes for United Press International’s ReligionandSpirituality.com — about “waking up” to our shared spirituality. To read more of Don’s work go to http://religionandspirituality.com/columnists/columns.php?FixtureID=dmunro . This article is printed with permission from the author.]