The First Step: Presume Competence


Even if your non-verbal child has been tested by every professional under the sun, it is my opinion that none of us know the extent of what the child is thinking, what he/she understands or what he/she is capable of when faced with new learning opportunities or challenges.  When you presume competence, you automatically look for positive responses.

The Eyes Are Expressive – And Have a Direct Link to the Brain

In my last post, How Do I Climb this Mountain?, I shared others’ observations of my son and how they just “knew” he had a lot going on inside his head.

“What makes you say that?” I would ask.

“You can see it in his eyes,” was the usual reply.  They saw interest, excitement and curiosity.


The eyes are expressive and there are volumes of research about facial expressions, body language and non-verbal communication.  But did you know the eyes have a direct link to the brain – that part of the eye is, in fact, brain tissue?  Read about the science behind this here.

I learned about the eye/brain connection and vision, including eye movements, when I was a Certified Optometric Vision Therapist.  Eye movements require fine motor control – those eye muscles are really small!  But I think that even someone who has poor fine motor control (writing, hand-grip, eye movements, etc.) can express interest, enthusiasm, anger and fatigue via their eye movements, pupil constriction/dilation or with the facial muscles around the eyes that control eyebrows, for example.

But the others who remarked about my son were not trained in vision therapy.  It seemed intuitive to them as they learned their own way to communicate with him and understand his non-verbal language. And they were looking at his eyes and facial expressions to glean any attempt at communication from him in their effort to understand him.

If Grandma or someone outside of your family can recognize the potential for competence, so can you.

Pay Attention

It takes time to get to know your own child, especially when he has complex communication needs.  You have to try lots of approaches AND pay attention to his responses –

What do his eyes do?

Where is he looking?

What does his body language indicate?

Does he seem interested at first, but then seems to lose interest or not respond positively?

Maybe he’s fatigued.  Maybe he’s reached his comprehension limit – for now.  Maybe he is just bored with the activity or subject matter.  Even that can be hard to determine.  But don’t let it stop you from trying.  As you expose your child to new ideas, new challenges and new adventures, you will begin to pick up on the nuances of his methods of communication.

That is your starting point.  Then grow him from there.

As Dr. John Townsend remarked in EntreLeadership Podcast #170 “There’s always this sweet spot, always always always, where you find out this person can do this much for themself, then they need external help.”  He goes on to say, “They’ve got to have somebody that when they get to…. the point of being uncomfortable, and they get to the point of ‘I can’t,’ and that ‘I can’t‘ is not anything manipulative like ‘Well, I don’t want to.’ ‘I really can’t. I’ve done everything I can, I’m sweatin’, I’m trying hard.‘ That’s when they do need someone to come along and say, ‘Ok.  I’ll take you the rest of the way.’  And that’s how they win.”


In my next blog post, I will talk about the importance of finding a good Speech-Language Pathologist to partner with as you look for ways to expand the availability of communication methods for your child.