Friday, February 28, 2014

The power of "NO"

I'm still working on my last "violence" piece. There's been a lot going on, and frankly the topic is too hard to address all in one sitting. The only way for my mental health to not suffer is to spread it out over a few weeks to give me a chance to process the horrible things that I am thinking about when I write. So, in the meanwhile, I will resume my "regular" blogging. But I promise, it's fact, it's several thousands of words long already...


It might actually be the most underestimated word in the English language.

There is no single word that carries with it as much strength, authority, and determination.

Kids, usually around the ages of 12-18 months, typically learn this word. Usually, this happens in an abstract context, with them not really understanding what it means. They use it more repetitively than intentionally, and often in strange or unusual ways.

But as they age, they start to understand the aura, the mystery, the unabashed power of this word.  This word, that has been so long used to restrain them, starts to become a symbol of the very first attempts at self-determination.

The toddler says "NO!"

And all of a sudden, the parent's world is shaken to its core.

We call this period of self-discovery and empowerment the "terrible twos", as if autonomy is somehow considered a bad thing.

But what it is, in its very essence, is the very first step in verbalized self-advocacy and, in a world where words seem to be the only type of communication that matters, this word is like a sword of independence and a shield of self-defence.

Self-advocacy is inconvenient for parents.

Self-advocacy is inconvenient for the system.

So, from the get go, we attempt to "tame"this defiance streak right out of our kids.

Compliance is key.

But for me, as the mother of a previously fully non-verbal son who has only recently begun to explore the world of language with zeal and delight, there is NO sweeter sound to my ears than to hear him say "No," a feat that we discovered this morning he has accomplished.

Granted, right now, he is playing with the sound. He has yet to use it meaningfully. But I know that this will come, in its own time as well. And the possibilities bring me excitement, hope, and relief.

If Sammie only ever learns to use one word intentionally, I hope that it is "no".

Forget being able to name body parts. Forget using the right words for emotions, or vehicles, or utensils.


I hope that he learns to use no.

If he isn't hungry and someone tries to force him to eat an apple, I want him to say:


If he is bored in class and the teacher asks if he likes the movie they are watching, I want him to say:


When I misread his body as being agitated instead of tired, and I want to take him swimming to get the wiggles out, I want him to say:


When I send him to school, with a building full of strangers, and someone tries to tie his hands down to a chair to keep them from flapping, I want him to say:


When he is out playing at recess, and the other kids start to push him around because he is different, I want him to say:


When I try to force him to be a person that he isn't by creating situations that upset and/or disregulate him, I want him to say:


When I send him on his first overnight trip with scouts, or another club, and a man that is supposed to protect him, to care for him, tells him to take down his pants, I want him to say:


When he cries at the door as I try to send him to school, or camp, or a friends, house or otherwise, and I ask him "Do you want to go there?" or "Do you feel safe there?" or "Do you like it there?", I want him to say:


There is no word in the English language that commands as much attention as "no". There is no one word that provides as much insight into a person's state of mind, thoughts, feelings, fears, insecurities, needs, and wants (or rather "don't wants") than "no".

There is no word more important for a non-verbal child to focus on, and to find a way to communicate. 

Don't get me wrong. I also hope that Sammie learns to consent to things. I want him to tell me what he loves. I want him to shout "Yes" from the roof tops every time he is happy or excited about something. The ability to consent verbally is also an extremely powerful and important tool.

But let's face it: Consent means nothing unless you have the ability to dissent.

Consent, without dissent, is nothing more than empty compliance.

Dissention is the benchmark of self-determination.

And while my son has always been able to dissent by using his body and his behaviours, these forms of communication are simply not as validated in this world.

This is world that says "Quiet hands" and assumes that language is the most important indicator for identifying cognitive ability.

This is a world that routinely discriminates against those who don't speak the majority language, let alone those who don't utilize speech at all.

This is a world that dictates that words=communication.

So today, my son is saying no.

Over the next weeks and years, that word will define and refine itself into a mantra of self-advocacy, but for now, it is just a sound, an echo of the word he has heard me use in thousands of different contexts and a foreshadowing of the voice that is starting to emerge.

My son is saying no.

He is singing it, over and over and over, like it is the most beautiful song her has ever heard.

And to his Mama's ears, it very well might be.

1 comment:

  1. I have no words for how much I love this post. And your blog . Everything I've read.

    plan trip to europe