I believe that everyone has a voice and everyone’s heart has a way to sing. I also know that many people cannot speak and still more have their speech fail them everyday.
I’m a speech therapist, but most of my students can’t speak. Others have speech that is too tricky for most to decipher. Their files are filled with labels like CP, Autism, and Dyspraxia, but typically its just words painting a picture of a kid who is not speaking much. Looks up for yes, breathing changes to indicate preferences, and one from last year fogs up window with his breath and then tries to spell out what he wants.
Last week I met a teenager who spends her day passively sitting in her wheelchair. I was checking out whether she could use a simple voice output device to have some more control. On this small button I recorded “stop” and “go.” I showed her how to press it to say “STOP,” and again to say “GOOO!” And as I helped her press the button, I pushed her wheelchair then stopped, spun her around then stopped, but it became clear that although she loved the playful interaction, she didn’t understand the button.
So I took a step back, sat in front of her, and listened. She moved her head forward. I moved mine. She moved her head back. I moved mine. She did it again, and so did I singing “back and forth.” She paused, then tapped her hand on the tray. I tapped mine. She slowly lowered her head until her cheek rested on the tray. I brought my face down too and snored ahahahatsu. She laughed.
There was the moment where she lit up, her heart sang toward me, and I heard her voice.
For some kids these moments are a raised eyebrow, a new spoken word, a gentle reach towards my face, or even waking up enough to look right at you. They actually light up. Now some of my kids have no problem understanding how to press a button. They have computers with hundreds and hundreds of pictures representing thousands of words that they use to speak and write. Like the kindergartner who pressed the symbols on his brand new communication device to say ‘mommy’ ‘can’t’ ‘go.’ He grabbed her hand, and started a silly game with us. We played along, and then this boy, whose face is almost always motionless, gave us the biggest, proudest quarter smile. He had spoken, and he knew we had heard him.
This is why I believe everyone has a voice, because every day I see silent kids talk. They talk with pictures, typing, gestures, eye movements, and sometimes fancy technology. Some of my students are oh so very clever and others have brains that limit how much they can take in. But they all communicate. And when they are with someone who really gets them, who really really listens, yeah their heart sings out too.