Why you should talk with nonverbal people


Something that I’ve been learning the hard way as the parent of a child with autism has been that, even when he appears indifferent, William’s desire to be a part of the action is intense.

So I’ve been building constant reminders into my daily life to help me change the habit of assuming he’s not paying attention.

One of the things I did was to post an article to Facebook written by a man with Asperger’s, discussing things that people do that are damaging to people on the spectrum. This post really got me between the eyes.

He talks about the time he visited an autism treatment facility and, though he was in a bad mood and he hates and barely understands small talk, he sat down next to a nonverbal boy and made some small talk with him about the weather.

For most people, small talk can be painful when it doesn’t open up deeper, more exciting conversation. But this is extreme: it’s making small talk with someone who literally responds with 100% silence. Not even eye contact. He persevered anyway.

Normally, at this point in a story like this, it would end with this miracle of something being reciprocated, and *that’s* why you persevere in conversation. Because they’re listening, and they’ll respond in their way if you keep pushing. Because, if you try enough, you’ll get something out of it.

But here, he points out something that, for me, was life-changing.

He says he expected no reciprocation from the interaction. He wasn’t even thinking about it. That’s *not* why he did it. It’s not why anyone should do it.

You do it for them–to show them they’re worth talking to.

Think about it. What do you communicate to someone by talking to them, or by refusing to talk to them? Imagine *that* boss everyone’s had who thinks talking to lowly little you is a waste of time.

But what if it wasn’t just your boss who wouldn’t look at you and talk to you because you’re not worth it? What if it was…(oh my gosh) everyone?

Now, this man’s story just happened to end with the nonverbal boy responding very positively to his efforts, but it wasn’t the point of the story at all. If he hadn’t responded at all, the decision to talk to him would have had its intended effect anyway.

And that’s the moment that I realized how much of the conversation I conduct is selfish, selfish, selfish.

Not that we shouldn’t enjoy those friends whose conversation is balm to the soul. Let’s be thankful for those people. But when I decide who I sit next to, when I let a conversation fall off so I can excuse myself and chat with someone else, those decisions are driven by what I can get out of it.

When I look at it closely, I realize the horrifying truth.

I seek to be encouraged, entertained, provoked, challenged, and flattered. And it’s not that I wouldn’t do that for someone else, but perhaps it’s at least slightly conditional upon whether or not they can repay the favor.

It’s not really what Christ had in mind.

13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13,14

(And as to repayment, it’s my personal theory that this repayment at the “resurrection of the righteous” is the fact that we’d belong to that group. Glory to God for that.)

By making a simple, though complicated shift in my goals, it changes everything.

William isn’t nonverbal, but he can’t have most conversations. So this was pretty applicable in my house. When my goal is to get something out of William that’s satisfying to me, I probably won’t try to pull him out of an extended stare-out-the-window reverie, because it earns me a lot of hard work without the “miracle” payoff on my end. The chances are pretty low that he’ll do something new at the exact moment I’m hoping for it.

But if my goal is to communicate to him that I love him, what I’m willing to do changes completely.

To communicate love, sure, I’ll work for it. I expect to. Anyone would.

I’ll take an hour and a half instead of an hour to make dinner, and expect a much bigger mess. It’s cool, because I’ve shown him I like him to be a part of what I’m doing.

And then, the “two” part of the one-two punch:

This is also how I pray.

I expect something from it. I want salvation from disaster, I want help raising my kids, I want an experience.

But do I go to God for Him? Not that He needs me to do it, but do I really approach Him just because He’s worth it? Just because I love Him and I want Him with me?

I feel like I have this quote on somewhat of a loop, but it explains this too.

“Do not say, after spending a long time in prayer, that nothing has been gained; for you have already gained something. And what higher good is there than to cling to the Lord and persevere in unceasing union with Him?” –St. John Climacus

Thanks be to God. I need reminding all the time.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Therese says:

    Me too. I need to be reminded. Constantly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. CaptainQuirk says:

    Hi, just found this article. Thank you so much for the compliments and for sharing your perspective. It’s great to hear the impact of what I write, especially when it’s considered “life-changing”! I wish you and William all the best.

    God bless,
    Chris (Autistic Not Weird)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mauraoprisko says:

      Hey! Wow, thanks for your comment, and *absolutely* your post was “life-changing.” Thank you for it. As a family, we’re in a crucial shift of our understanding of him. I’m immensely grateful for it. He seems happier, and I know him better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. CaptainQuirk says:

        That’s great to hear. 🙂 Shared this article to my FB page.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Leah says:

    Very nice! I too need constant reminding.


  4. Patricia says:

    Reblogged this on Spectrum Perspectives and commented:
    they’re worth talking to

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Diana T. says:

    Dear daughter of God,

    This is the fifth time I read your article, the last months. It comes as an encouragement to do this again and again, not being afraid of judgment or criticism from others. I work in a psychiatric center, as (Christian) counselor, and I love my job! It was my dream job! And, believe me, I also had moments like the one you’ve shared… and they make my heart joyful and merciful. Even a veeeery small “feedback” or reaction from a patient fills my heart with thanksgiving and grace! God is good and great! 🙂

    Be blessed and be a blessing,

    Liked by 1 person

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