What's in a word? by Ros Bayes

I have always loved words. Apparently my first word was “cardigan”, spoken when my mother covered me with hers in the pram one chilly day. From the moment I could hold a pencil I was copying letters, and could write in whole sentences before I started school at the age of 5. This was not, by the way, a harbinger of genius; it was actually the ONLY thing I could do! I have been writing stories and poetry for as long as I remember, and even as a child occasionally sent submissions to publishers and magazines, with my first article published at age sixteen.

So imagine the impact of being told that my second child probably hadn’t the intelligence ever to learn any speech. I couldn’t imagine the horror of a life without words and at first found this far more distressing than her physical disabilities.

As she grew older, she showed signs of understanding, which gave me hope that her cognitive abilities were greater than the doctors thought. I remember her first word. She pointed at a plate on the table and said, “cake”! After this, other single words followed.

We found she had considerable musical ability. She first encountered a piano when she was two. She prodded the keys to see what they did, and then played Frère Jacques, note-perfect, in the same key as a toy in her cot.  When we realised that music could reach her in a way that words could not, a local charity arranged weekly music therapy for her, and through this she learned to express what she could not put into words. One afternoon the doorbell rang and I said, “Here’s Jenny, come to play music with you.” She threw her head back and shouted, “I love you!” – her first whole sentence.

Two years later, her older sister was annoying her. Suddenly she shouted, “Shut your face!” This was not the kind of language I wanted to hear in my home; I assume she had heard it at school! But I was thrilled, because it was so appropriate in context and clearly used with understanding.

By the time she left school she could not only speak fairly clearly and hold a conversation, but she had also acquired a reading age of eight – quite impressive for someone who wasn’t supposed to have the intelligence ever to learn any speech.

Over the years, she has gone on expanding her vocabulary. Another “lightbulb” moment came recently when Bailero from Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne came on the car radio. She began to sob, big tears rolling down her face and splashing onto her hands, before announcing, “The music makes you emotional.” That was the beginning of a journey into understanding and using “feeling” words, and having that vocabulary to express herself has greatly decreased the distress she feels at overwhelming emotions.

None of this happened by accident. She was created by a God who loves words, who creates through words, who is The Word. I look back over her life with real gratitude and praise to Him, that He has never been limited by the doctors’ diagnoses.  There are, of course, people who never acquire or understand language.  How good to know that what gives us worth and significance is not our mental capacity but our capacity for love, and all of us are loved to the full by God.

More thoughts on the subject of Words

Ros Bayes has 6 published and 3 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles to her credit.  She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day.  You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/.  Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.


  1. Thank you for this post Ros. We often forget about the value of the things we take for granted. Praise God for his goodness and provision

  2. Thank you, Ros. My son's first word was also "cake". His second was "more". :-) That's my boy!

  3. This is a very moving post, Ros. I particularly liked your sentence about "a God who loves words, who creates through words, who is The Word". What a wonderful affirmation for writers. I'm so glad your daughter found a new channel of self-expression through music, too, another gift of God, which has helped not only those with different disabilities, but many others too; and which has always played a major part in my own life. Thank you for this lovely and sensitive post.

  4. You told her story really well here. I teach Child Language Acquisition to A level students and so found your daughter's journey into language really interesting.

  5. Thank you everyone for your kind comments. It has been a fascinating, frustrating and enlightening journey, watching her vocabulary emerge in often surprising ways, and praising God for doing so much more than the doctors thought possible.

  6. What a moving and inspiring post reminding us that God can do miracles for those who trust him. Thank you...

  7. So inspirational and beautiful.

  8. Such a beautiful story thank you for sharing :)


Post a Comment