When our child first arrived six months ago he could not speak a word of English. He was completely silent and understood very little of what we tried to communicate. He wore a permanent look of mistrust and uncertainty which made his features brittle and often impenetrable.
We communicated using a bizarre mix of mime, demonstration, flash cards and language line (a telephone interpreting service). I became so used to this way of communicating that I found myelf doing it in wider circles – throwing my arms around and pointing needlessly to things that might clarify my meaning. I soon realised people thought I’d lost the plot a little.
When our child had built up a vocabulary of about 20 words he started school where he had to choose his GCSE options. He couldn’t read or write in English. This was Everest type stuff but he took it in his stride as if it were a mere incline.
Having completed a term at school and with Christmas upon us, I asked him if he’d like to read to me every day. He agreed enthusiastically and true to his word, would appear daily with book in hand and the pronouncement 'I read'.
I’d bought him the books in the Peter Lancett, Dark Man series. These books are great for a child who does not have much language as they are simply written but clearly aimed at older children. The reader is able to engage with the book without feeling that they have been punished with something childish and vacuous.
I can’t describe to you how wonderful it was to hear our child read. He still speaks rarely and when he does, he does so haltingly and in broken fragments. Whilst reading I got to hear him speak in complete sentences. It gave me a strong sense of the boy we might see emerge if time is on our side. One who will be able to express himself and make himself understood. A boy for whom you could have great hope.
Once he’d read a chapter we would go back and look at the individual words and the meaning of the text. I was back to my pantomime routine: lying down on the floor, running around, moving with exaggerated slowness, searching for simple synonyms and when my repertoire ran low, there was always Google translate. On the final day of the holidays we reached the last word in the book.
'Do you know what this word means?' I asked.
He shook his head.
'Brave,' I said. 'It’s what you are.'
Then as he looked at the translation on Google, I saw those brittle features melt into a smile and watched a faint blush spread across his cheeks.
'Brave,' he repeated.