My Wordless Days With My Son Are Filled With Love

My son and I both have autism. He shows me love in so many ways, and none of them include speech.

by Tiffany Hammond
Originally Published: 
Parenting & Disability

I remember sitting in the disturbingly bright waiting room of a speech therapy center, listening to the other waiting parents. As one family came in, another would leave. Over and over again, new conversations formed, old ones ended. I picked up a magazine because I could no longer stomach the sight of the bright yellow dragons on the walls, and the overlapping voices were too much for me. I sensed when someone sat near me, but I kept reading my magazine because I wanted to find out what kind of plant I was. I looked up to see a young boy come out and run to his mama as if he hadn’t seen her in days. He hugged her and told her that he loved her. He just kept repeating it. “I love you, Mommy.” Over and over.

This brought forth a chorus of aww and how precious from the other moms in the waiting room. I sat in silence. I watched them for a bit, then went back to my magazine to finish my quiz. I heard the mom say, “He didn’t start speaking until a few months ago. He just turned 6.” Soon, they left.

The mother who sat near me turned toward me and said, “The most beautiful sound in the world that a mother can hear is the voice of her child telling her ‘I love you.’ Am I right?”

I didn’t respond, and I think she thought I could not hear her because she asked again — “Am I right?” — offering a warm smile. I just looked at her. I stared — not at her, but through her. I didn’t want her to see my eyes. I didn’t want to see hers, either, imagining they were shining and sparkling like her mouth.

Because if I met her eyes, she would know that I didn’t understand what she meant. The beauty of my child becomes even more beautiful through his voice? I can’t meet her eyes with mine because then she would know the sadness that lives here, and the anger. I don’t know that I am angry with her — I don’t know how I feel in this moment, but I know I can’t share in her joy. My heart doesn’t swell like hers. The moment hung in the air for what felt like a lifetime but it was seconds. Just seconds between her wanting me to confirm the beautiful existence of spoken words to my wanting to leave this room. I finally said it: “My son doesn’t speak.”

I watched those kind, warm eyes lose their sparkle. Her smile faded.

I know his love in so many ways, and none of them include speech.

I normally would expect remorse in these instances, but she gave no such thing. No regretful eyes. No “sorry.” When she finally spoke, I knew why. “One day,” she said, and I realized why she felt no remorse, no regret, no pity, even: She had hope. Hope for a child who wasn’t her own. Hope for something she felt was the most beautiful thing for a mother to experience.

And then I felt even more angry. She does not know the weight of her words. She does not know the hurt that she causes. You may think I’m being too sensitive, but I can’t help the feelings I have — only that I have them and I have to see them through. If I haven't ever heard this sound she considers to be the most beautiful sound in the world, what kind of mother does that make me? I mean, I don’t know this type of beauty. What kind of child does that make my son? That he would deny me such beauty? Does he not love me? I mean, surely not enough to give me the most beautiful sound in the world.

Here’s what I know: I see and feel his love for me every single day.

I was angry because she was hopeful that my child would speak one day. Why was I not hopeful? Is that why I don’t know the most beautiful sound in the world? Because hope doesn’t reside here? No. That’s not it.

Because her hope for speech is part of a system that values speaking over all other forms of communication. My son’s worth would be tied in with his ability to use his voice. She wanted him to be as she was. As the other children at the center were. “I love you” from your child was beautiful because it was speech. That was what made it the most beautiful sound in the world. But what happens when your child doesn’t speak?

Here’s what I know: I see and feel his love for me every single day.

When he burrows into my shoulder late at night because he wants to feel the warmth of my body to lull him to sleep, I know his love.

When his eyes scan the room looking for me so that he feels safe in unfamiliar spaces, I know his love.

When he reaches for my hand when he’s anxious or scared because he knows I am the only one who can calm his mind, I know his love.

When his moods mirror my own, I know he’s so in tune with me, he’s so locked into his mama, that I know his love.

When he rubs my arms when I cry, and only when I cry, I know his love.

When he taps “mama,” “love” on his device, I know his love.

I know his love in so many ways, and none of them include speech.

I don’t hope for speech. I don’t hope for the day he will say a word. I don’t hope for “I love you” to spring from his tongue.

I hope that my son knows my love for him runs deeper than any ocean. Farther than the darkness of space. Brighter than the surface of the sun.

I hope that he knows joy. And safety. Companionship. The love of a good friend. The pull of a good book.

I hope that he knows he is beautiful just the way he is.

And I hope he knows that every sound he makes is the most beautiful sound in the world.

Tiffany Hammond is the author of the children’s book A Day With No Words. An Autistic mother, advocate, and storyteller, Hammond uses her personal experiences with Autism and parenting two Autistic boys to guide others on their journey. She has a master’s in developmental psychology and spends her time teaching, coaching, and mentoring others in disability justice issues.

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