Most people with a HADDS diagnosis experience language delays. Usually their receptive language is much higher than their expressive language, meaning that they understand lots more than they are able to say or explain or express.
Speech and language deficits vary in HADDS, but it appears that most individuals with HADDS do acquire spoken language. In fact, many families report many gains in speech and other areas at age three (and certainly beyond). Early and frequent speech therapy sessions, as well as support in other means of communication are recommended for individuals with HADDS. Most children and teens with this diagnosis continue to benefit from therapy in the areas of language, communication, and articulation.
Chloe, like many others, experienced language delays. In fact, she is still considered mostly nonverbal today at age 18. However, people who slow down and take the time and effort to get to know her and “listen” to her can understand much of what she has to say, whether it’s spoken with her mouth or made with a simple gesture. She is able to mimic and attempt spoken language when she’s motivated, and her spoken words can be understood by a good listener given a clear context. She uses a combination of verbalizations, sign language, gestures, pictures, a communication (AAC) device, and other means to get her point across.
Chloe has much to say and makes many efforts to communicate to those willing to listen.
But oftentimes, her attempts fail and the message isn’t received or understood. What is the key to her communication being successful?
The key to Chloe’s communication being successful is a good, attentive listener. A good attentive listener “listens” with more than his/ her ears. A good attentive listener waits and takes into account the context, the surroundings, and Chloe’s perspective. A good listener pays attention to what Chloe is attending to. Chloe will often communicate through a stuffed animal or through a video she’s watching or a book she’s reading. Many times Chloe’s use of the stuffed animal or the iPad to communicate is misunderstood as her being off-task or uninterested, but in reality, it is a very deliberate effort to communicate a message. A good attentive listener will pick up on Chloe’s creative communication attempts and put words to them.
I’m often amazed at her creativity and effort when communicating with me and others. Recently when she got a new stuffed animal, she introduced the new stuffed animal to her well-loved favorite doggy, Butterscotch. She wanted to tell me that the two dogs were now friends. She crawled off to her closet, dug through her bookshelf, finally found the book she needed, flipped to the right page, scanned down to the right paragraph, pointed to the word “friend”, and then locked eyes with me to see if I understood enough to vocalize the message for her.
“Oh, the dogs are going to be good friends,” I said aloud for her.
And she nodded several times in agreement as she held the two dogs together.
That was a lot of effort and time just to say the word “friend.” But I’ve learned that it’s important for Chloe to relate to her messages on a different level other than just plain words or signs. We look at that conversation above and think it would have been so much easier to simply sign “friend” or to type the word on her communication device or iPad, but Chloe needed to relate to the word and the message by bringing in a book that she was familiar with… a book that talked about friends.
How many times have I (and others) assumed she had nothing to say or that she didn’t want to talk because she turned her back and crawled away?
I constantly marvel at the complexity and beauty of her communication.