A language far older than words


…the lady behind us in the checkout queue smiles down at him. My son’s black protective bump hat tacitly advertises the fact he has “special needs” like a corporate logo. I know whats coming and recite the off the shelf phrase in my mind. She says her bit : ….”hello you, i like your t-shirt, its got dinosours on it, do you like dinosaurs? ” His vacant slightly confused expression demands intervention….here i go: …” he cant really speak he’s had a brain injury” I apologetically reply. Here comes the embarassed smile, hers and mine. To tell her more, the clinical life threatening details of his epilepsy would be too much for her I think. Keep it brief, simple.
Language is so strange, to step outside of my narrow experience, trying to understand my sons perspective is like being a fish attempting to persuade myself of the existance of water. Patently obvious and yet infinatly complex. If experience alone forms the basis for thought, is it possible thought can exist without words ? The damage to my son’s brain following a viral infection has diminished his vocabulary to the extent he’s no longer able to effectively communicate through speech. To subconsciously lable things seems to be how I have defined my world, assign value to things and create a framework within which I can build understanding and give form to the information passed from my senses. How then does he build his understanding of the world if not through words, language? I feel the tap on my shoulder and turn to see him hand me his shoe. He looks intently at my face, have i understood his wish? this is what i want now- do you understand me ? The meaning is obvious. Is he learning to communicate in purley symbolic terms, outside of vocabulary? He seems to a limited extent to be capable of understanding key terms, Particular words and phrases. Input. Forming words, speech is almost non existent-Output. His expressive little face spells out every complex emotion, sometimes behavioural cues tell me hes worried, unhappy or exited. Theres also an intuative predictabilty, probably familiar to all parents and I suspect people who have spent the greater part of their lives together. He’s more than capable of picking this up in others too. This is an older, more profound language. Inherited perhaps from the deep well of history. Its something more than empathy. I dont think there are any expressions for this, existing as it does outside of Symantec reasoning. Whatever else his condition has taken, I’m grateful beyond words this has remained.


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