Most of our students with severe communication challenges have their needs met. Often there are few opportunities for communication interactions; their lives are based on routines, i.e. a bathroom schedule, an eating schedule, a TV watching time, etc. therefore their opportunities to exert control have been significantly limited. What then may follow are inappropriate behaviors that are developed or their own unique ways of communicating may begin to take place.
A personal communication or gesture dictionary is a document, a communication profile, which helps to outline the ways in which an individual communicates. A communication profile is most useful for new or casual support staff that quickly need to know about the ways that an individual communicates. It is also a wonderful tool to pass on with a student whenever they are moving from one support staff to another. If a student is communicating, if it works, let's use it! Encouraging and accepting all modes of communication (i.e. verbalizations, gestures, pointing, symbols) is part of providing a multi-modality approach to communication, but documenting these communication approaches will allow everyone to understand and be on the same page.
A communication dictionary is a form with information about a person’s communication needs, skills and abilities. It is designed to be a ‘quick glance’ guide that documents what the individual understands and the ways in which he or she communicates. A personal communication dictionary is more useful for partners who are unfamiliar with the ways that a person communicates.
It should contain information about unique or idiosyncratic communication behaviors. It provides information about what the person does, what this means and what the other person should do in response to the communication behavior seen. A gesture dictionary should be part of the dictionary, which includes the signs and gestures that people understand or also use. For those with complex communication needs it is important that those in their life recognize and understand their communication behaviors.
We need to remember: Communication is power! It's about having control over your environment. Crying, kicking, biting can get control but is it the method we want them to use to communication? Does it work? It depends on how we react to it.
We may want to start with a communication profile that will tell us about this unique individual. A communication dictionary can help to ensure that everyone on the team is aware of the student's communication behaviors and how to respond accurately. It also enables the team to respond in a way that is predictably familiar to that particular individual. This way their communication method, or behavior, is understood and responded to appropriately by the whole team.
A Personal Dictionary is a composite of the intent, what they are attempting to communicate, and the behavior they use to attempt this communication. Integrating the use of a personal dictionary as a reference guide can be very helpful. To develop a personal dictionary it is important that you get input from all the people who know the individual best.
Remember, behavior is also a form of communication. Individuals who have CCN use whatever method is available to them to communicate. And, if it works, they will use the same method over and over again. We are the ones who support the use of the communication strategy used.
- Behaviors Observed
- Intent - What it means
- How to Respond
When keeping your logs, consider: Many individuals add meaning to what they are saying by using facial expressions (such as smiling or raising their eyebrows) and gestures (such as lifting a hand or dropping their head). For those who find speech difficult or have limited or no speech, facial expression and gestures can be a very important.
On the other hand, someone with physical impairments may find facial expression and gestures very difficult to make and may have their own unique ways to express themselves, such as looking down may mean no or a whole body excitement may mean yes. It is our job to take the time to find out what their preferred method is and that it is their consistent ay of communicating this in all environments.
The next step, begin introducing icons, simple signs... a more universal strategy for communication.