Becoming Real: The Velveteen Parent/Child Partnership

Written by Elizabeth Zielinski

“Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you.”

For as long as I can remember, my favorite children’s book has always been The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. First published in 1922, it chronicles the story of a stuffed rabbit’s desire to become Real (capitalization intentional). Via a bittersweet story, Williams covers important themes such as the value of being loved for one’s true self and coping with a changing world. I hope you already know this classic story, but if you don’t, here’s a summary: 

The Velveteen Rabbit Summary

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM, books, nonspeaking books, books for nonspeakersIn the story, “becoming Real” is code for seeking, and eventually finding authenticity. It occurs to me that gaining access to the purposeful communication of our kids is just about the truest example of authentic living I can find. But it’s also true, in both the book and with communication access, that nothing so very worth having will come easily.

The unique dynamic of a parent/child relationship adds an element to your communication dyad that will always make it different from that of an S2C practitioner, teacher, or any other CRP. Before finding Spelling to Communicate, you have had to rely on every other parenting superpower you have to understand your child’s nonspeaking communication. Having that bond changes everything about using the boards – the trust, the stakes, the potential for influence, and most of all the likelihood of speaking on behalf of, and over, your child. How do you turn off years of conditioning and millennia of instinct? How do you appropriately apply parenting, but not go so far as editing and gatekeeping for your son or daughter? The Velveteen Rabbit has the wisdom you seek:

Looks Don’t Matter. Our hero the Rabbit is described as “fat and bunchy,” and early in the book, he is seen as less worthy of the boy’s attention because he’s not one of the shiny mechanical toys. At the beginning of our spelling relationship with our kids, that might be exactly how we feel. We desperately want the world to see their awesomeness, but the method is awkward for us (not to mention for our child). We see what a practitioner can do with them, and we don’t understand why we can’t duplicate it. We may be comparing ourselves to others who are more fluent or who acquired their letter board skills more easily. The method is so deceptively simple, why is it not easy, too? Always remember: comparison is the thief of joy. Learning is not a straight line, nor does it happen at a predictable speed. And both of you are still learning.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM, books, nonspeaking books, books for nonspeakersIgnore the Haters. The Rabbit was bullied for being a stuffed animal. He wasn’t fancy like the other toys in the nursery, and he couldn’t run and jump like the other rabbits in the garden. He was rejected from many directions, and so the Rabbit learned to ignore the people who hated on him and to value the friendships that mattered most. When it comes to spelling with your child, this isn’t just a valuable life lesson, it’s a survival skill. There will be detractors when it comes to the initially-foreign concept that your child can communicate, and have had the receptive understanding all along. Many of the professionals in your child’s life, when asked to accept this paradigm shift, are also being asked to forego their education and training to accept it. They may not be ready to pay that steep price. Forgive them for what they don’t know, and protect your child by only allowing him or her to be with those who believe and support your process. The Rabbit doesn’t need the garden rabbits to tell him when he’s Real, and he doesn’t need the Boy to keep loving him to stay that way. 

Be strong. Rabbit is given the following advice from the Skin Horse: becoming Real will make you “get loose in the joints and very shabby.” Because of that, it’s not for “people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.” You won’t reach authenticity if you are too easily damaged along the way. Your child will become dysregulated for any one of a thousand different reasons. Sometimes they will give you messages you don’t like, or that are hard to hear – such as negative feedback over well-intentioned decisions you made on their behalf. It’s ok to be sensitive. It’s not ok to be fragile. Your child needs you to be the unflappable one, while they focus on these new and life-altering skills. It will be hard sometimes, but it will always be worth it. And they deserve that from us.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM, books, nonspeaking books, books for nonspeakersEventually, you will become Real. True authenticity is about more than transcribing words accurately. It’s about foregoing our long-held parental role and allowing our kids to teach the world who they are, regardless of whether they do so in the way we would have done it for them. Authenticity isn’t just the communication itself, it’s the autonomy and agency that stems from it. Don’t provide the former but withhold the latter. I can promise you that learning to back off and allow your child to grow and represent themselves in the world is not unique to parenting a nonspeaker – it’s true of all parenting. 

On the other side of becoming Real lies everything we seek for our kids. We want to know them and love them for their true selves. For them, the authenticity will be transforming. It’s ok for you to be a work in progress, but always be aware that we are not the hero of their life story. They are.

“Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM, books, nonspeaking books, books for nonspeakersElizabeth Zielinski lives in Chantilly, Virginia and is the mother of two young men, one of whom (pictured) has used S2C to communicate for the past six years. She is the founder of the S2C lesson-sharing website, as well as being a trained special education advocate. Her passion is building meaningful education for students with a variety of disabilities.


The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy and research I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C)with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

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