Having a non-verbal child is a challenge under most circumstances. I happen to also be “blessed” with a child who refuses to use PECs or sign-language, because he *knows* that the way to communicate is to speak–and wants to do that, even though he can’t speak much due to his disability. As you can imagine, that makes fulfilling his needs even harder. Not to mention making it harder to educate him. For years we struggled with the schools, as they insisted it was our fault he wouldn’t use PECs, even though we tried and would have welcomed an easier way to communicate.

We are very fortunate that over the past few years, Raif has managed to pick up enough words to communicate some of his wants. We have also gotten very good at tailoring “yes or no” questions so he can give us an idea of his desire when he can’t outright tell us. Multiple choice questions also encourage him to “use words” to clarify his preferences. One of the funniest things is his use of canned-phrases to let us know signify his wants. I can’t help but laugh when I ask him if he wants soup, and he’ll answer with “Mmm, mmm, good.” Reminds me a lot of the character from Batteries Not Included. Remember that movie?

Despite advances on the communication front, one thing that has not changed much over the years is Raif’s inability to tell us if he is sick. It’s easy if he is running a fever, or has such severe pain that it’s obvious he’s ill. However, a lot of the time when Raif is sick, we don’t realize it, and more importantly, he doesn’t realize it. I think we have all been there, where we feel off and just can’t really point to what is ailing us. Perhaps a tickle in our throat, or a dull ache. Those are the illnesses that perplex my son, and which cause us a lot of trouble.

After a long period of doing very well in school, Raif became violent the other day. No one could really understand why. After a look-over by the nurse, they noticed his throat was a little red. Pain can make Raif feel off and get aggressive. He wasn’t running a fever or anything, but we decided to take him to the doctor. Turns out he had an infection and was put on antibiotics.

Even with a severe child, I think we still take it for granted that if your child is sick, he/she will let you know. Even for Raif, if he is in a lot of pain, will come and take our hand, placing it on his ear or other place it hurts. General illnesses, and even things that are overtly painful like a sore throat, are abstract and perplexing to our son. There are times we’ve suspected he’s suffered weeks without us knowing, until the illness (or his aggression) go so pronounced it was obvious something was wrong.

When we told Raif that he was going to the doctor, he was happy, and then proceeded to coughing hard and moan. He continued this over-exaggeration the whole day and through his visit at the doctors, even though everyone kept reassuring him he didn’t have to act sick for the doctor to see him. It wasn’t until after the fact that I realized in Raif’s head, *that* is what he equates illness with. Even if he feels bad, if he does not see those physical symptoms in himself, he may not realize he is truly sick–despite the fact he feels bad enough that it comes out in the form of marked aggressiveness.

Thankfully, the doctor and nurses were really good about the whole situation. We got Raif into see the doctor quickly, piggybacking on an existing appointment we had for two of our daughters to get a check-ups. Again, in Raif’s mind, he saw his siblings getting shots and immediately felt he needed a shot. In fact he got so worked up about it, he pinched himself in the arm when he didn’t get one. He was consoled when the nurse gave him a band-aid that matched his sisters’.

I hope one day Raif will be able to tell when he is sick, and let us know, even if it is him simply saying “sick.” Until then, it just adds another role of “medical detective” to our resume as we have to look out on our own for the signs when he is not feeling well. Which is not as easy as it sounds, because our son is smart enough to know how to FAKE being sick, even if he isn’t so astute to always know when he is truly ill.

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