I hear the sound of children’s voices, high-pitched and happy as I pass the door of the pre-school classroom. My eye catches a ball rolling across the floor and I stop for a closer look. The teacher sits cross-legged on the floor, encircled by eager four-year-olds. as they play what appears to be a simple game. Fascinated, I watch and listen.
“O.K., Nathan. I rolled the ball to you and asked you a question. Now, what do you need to do to keep the game going?”
The dimples on Nathan’s cheeks punctuate his delighted reply. “I need to answer the question, look you in the eye and roll the ball back to you.”
“That’s a high-five, Nathan! Who wants to be next?”
The other children clamor for a turn at the game with an obvious two-fold purpose. I stand transfixed, recalling how my own daughter learned that same social grace the same way when she was a child. She sensed the importance of keeping the “ball in play”, of developing the art of meaningful and interesting conversation. But, as I listen to these children play the game, I picture another child - Addie Grace – my daughter’s own four-year-old.
“Roll the ball, Addie Grace.” I hear her momma say. I see her small hand in my mind’s eye, reaching out and spinning the ball back with a joyful shriek and I smile. She can play that part of the game for minutes on end, but a squeal is the only spoken response she can give. Addie Grace has yet to speak her first word.
She was born with a rare chromosome deletion, rendering her virtually deaf, mentally challenged and developmentally delayed. With fewer than fifty such cases in the world as reference points and all quite different – she is quite special and unique. Her condition is a mystery to us. “God made her this way”, my daughter reckons, “for a purpose.“
So far, God has used her to teach us many things - how to be acutely sensitive to the needs of a child whose communication is limited to squeals, cries and gestures when most children her age are jabbering away in all kinds of language. We have learned how to use hand motions, facial expressions and touch as forms of “speaking” to her - accentuating the senses to which she can relate. The greatest lesson is allowing God’s grace to come to us through this child. He is teaching us how love is the highest form of communication.
I gaze again at the children in the classroom, each taking a turn at playing the conversational “ballgame”. As they succeed in the exchange, sometimes their word responses are interspersed with a familiar sound - one exuding sheer joy, what I deem
an Addie Grace “squeal”.
I am filled with a sense of hope as I walk away. My heart glows as I drum up a memory from its treasure troves, savoring our own cheers of celebration when Addie Grace recently mimicked two simple syllables spoken to her. “Ha-ha”, to most people, sounds like the response to a joke, but when Addie Grace first repeated “ha-ha” back to her mother, it was heaven-sent music. The realization hits me - she had rolled back her first “conversational” ball!
My heart overflows with praises as I consider the possibilities. I raise my hand into the air as I send a message across the miles, “That’s a high-five, Addie Grace!”
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