she’s right here
can’t you see her?
do you remember snuffleupagus?
for years, he was invisible
until he wasn’t
only big bird could see him
and then we all could
i never knew why
now we stand here with my daughter between us and i wonder if i’m big bird to her snuffleupagus because clearly you can’t see her
i would laugh at the image
if it weren’t so very, very unfunny
no, it’s not funny at all
why can’t you see her?
she’s right here
why are you asking me what she is feeling?
i am not her
i do not feel what she feels, see what she sees, know what she knows
why would you ask me?
if you ask me i will ask her
why don’t you see her?
because seeing her demands your patience, needs your energy, takes your time, requires your heart?
is that why?
is that why you choose not to see her?
because it’s safer?
because you know that if you interact with her she’ll demand that you show up?
that engaging with her means that you’ll have to feel something?
are you afraid that your entreaties might fall flat?
that perhaps there will be an awkward moment?
that you might look foolish because you’re not sure how to speak in her language?
welcome to her world
is it fear?
fear of judgement, fear of exposure, fear that seeing her will mean being seen in return and maybe, just maybe, that prospect terrifies you?
she deserves better
she is a human being
she’s right here
take the risk
for both of you
Here are some tips:
Use Brooke’s name to let her know that you are talking to her.
The number of words you think you need? Cut it in half. (It’s actually kind of liberating. If this really stumps you, pretend you’re composing a Tweet.)
Give her time to process your words and respond to you. The amount of time you think you should wait before repeating what you’ve said or prompting her to answer? Triple it. That place you think you have to be immediately or that email that you feel compelled to check right this very second? They’ll wait. Slowing you down is one of her many gifts.
Don’t assume that eyes are ears. Eye contact can be extremely uncomfortable for my child. Please do not think that just because she may not be looking at you, she’s not hearing you. She hears everything.
Speak clearly. Please note, this doesn’t mean slowly and / or loudly, a la Grandpa shouting in English for the benefit of a non-English speaker. It just means speak clearly. Try not to let your words run together. They take more time to process that way.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, of her or any of us who love her. We are more than happy to help. But if you’re going to ask us something about her, please do it discreetly so that you are not talking around, over, above of through her. See above — she can hear you.
Put yourself in her shoes. Really, truly think about how you would feel if you were her. Offer her the respect that you would want shown to you were you standing right in front of another person.
Trust that we will jump in to help if need be. We’ve been at this a long time. We’re not going to stand by and let you flounder.
If all else fails, sit with her. Watch her. Get to know her. Just be. Together. It’s a pretty neat thing, this. Dont’ underestimate the power of just being with another person.
In one of my favorite passages from I Might Be You, Barb Rentenbach, who is nonverbal, writes,
We are not hiding. You search with limited senses and therefore our humanity is camouflaged to you.
Be still. Be quiet. Be. We notice you on the glacier. We observe you completely. Language presentation is the barrier to our friendship — not sentience or intellect.
We do not speak your language but you can speak ours. Be still. Be quiet. Be. And now be with us. Our silent and invisible language is that easy to learn. Feel it?
Welcome. Our friendship has begun.
Pure. Simple. Beautiful.
Make the effort, won’t you?
My daughter — our children — human beings — are worth it, I promise.