When Losing My Voice Meant Finding a Better Connection
Earlier this year, I woke-up on a Saturday morning and had no voice.
It was gone without warning, and did not return for five days. And although this sudden change was quite annoying and inconvenient for someone who speaks with others for a living, it caused me to pause and be reminded of something critical to understanding my daughter (a teenager who lives with a serious neurobehavioral condition, FASD) and the way her brain works.
I’ve known for a decade now that my daughter has a slow processing pace (think 20-second child in a one-second world) and that her fragile nervous system is hyper-sensitive to the tone, intensity and volume of my voice. This is not new information for me, by any stretch. Even now, at 14 years old, she needs double the amount of time to complete simple, repeated and routine tasks. She cannot be hurried or rushed, or she is likely to fall apart and require even more time and support. She is incredibly sensitive to another’s tone of voice — especially if there’s tension or frustration — and to loud noises, including raised voices, and to increased intensity in body language or facial expressions.
Maybe you can relate.
Maybe this sounds a lot like your own child.
These are, after all, common lagging cognitive skills for many kids with brain-based differences.
When I awoke with no voice on that Saturday morning, I became acutely aware of my unconscious tendency to seek control over my daughter’s behavior with my voice — increasing the tone, intensity and volume in an attempt to make her move more quickly or “comply” with my requests. It became apparent, over those five voiceless days, how often this means of control had become my default, especially if I felt rushed, tired or an underlying sense of irritability (read: minor dysregulation). Almost immediately, I recognized the increased frustration I felt when this form of communication, and this way of showing my authority, was no longer available to me.
When I was unable to use my voice as a means of control or a demonstration of power, I had no choice but to do things differently.
Out of necessity, I began to move nearer to my daughter. To whisper in close proximity. And to speak in a greatly-reduced cadence, since this was the only way I could be understood. I found myself taking a few extra steps (literally and figuratively!) when needing to communicate something to her, such as walking upstairs to her bedroom — again moving close, with a gentle hand on her back — to whisper softly to come down for dinner, versus repeatedly shouting up the stairs that it was Time to EAT!
I had no choice but to rely on body language and touch to get my daughter’s attention, and to keep her engaged in what I was saying, rather than raising the intensity and volume of my voice to communicate what I was asking. Those few days of losing my voice caused me to realize just how much I use the intensity, tone and volume of my voice to attempt to gain control and compliance, instead of accommodating my daughter’s true needs, which of course involves giving her more time, speaking more slowly, using more touch and other non-verbal forms of connection in my interactions with her.
Another way to say this: I was reminded of the importance of talking to my daughter in a way that does not leave her fragile nervous system on edge. It was a reminder, and further proof, that she is always more settled with a quieter, closer, more relational approach.
This happened, as I said, months ago; since then, my voice has returned. I’d love to say this simple-but-powerful lesson has completely stuck with me, and that I’ve given up using my voice as a means of control since then. But that would simply not be the whole truth. I still fall into the default pattern more than I’d like to admit. Breaking old patterns takes time, and so — like many of you — I’m still in the thick of gradual, necessary change. This experience served as yet another humbling reminder of how, even when you're a decade into parenting your child from this Brain First lens, there are still a-ha moments and opportunities to deepen your understanding of yourself and your child. It’s also a reminder of just how hard it is to change our own ways of reacting, no matter how desperately you wish to be different. As I always say, thank goodness perfection is not required.
The important thing is that we continue to practice non-judgmental curiosity (about our children's behaviors and our own), with the goal of shifting and changing in all of the ways we know our kids need — a little each day, giving ourselves grace along the way.
Interested in learning more about how your child’s unique brain works differently and what this means in terms of helping them experience fewer challenging behaviors? You can visit eileendevine.com to learn about the Brain First Parenting program and The Resilience Room membership community.
Eileen Devine works in Portland, OR as a therapist and coach supporting parents of children with special needs. She is also a consultant for families impacted by FASD, PANS/PANDAS and other neurobehavioral conditions through her private practice, working with families nationally and internationally. She lives with her husband and two amazing kids, one of whom happens to live with FASD. For more information, visit eileendevine.com.