What is communication and how do we communicate without verbal language?Working with individuals who have complex communication, it can be very challenging. I try remind others that just because a person can’t speak doesn’t mean they don't have anything to say, it might mean that we haven't figured out a way for them to say it yet. Communicating is so much more than expressing our wants and needs. Communication is a basic human need. Among other things, it allows a person to connect with others, make decisions that affect their lives, express feelings and feeling a part of a community.
What is communication?
- Communication is any time one person gives or receives information from another person. Communication is interactive and involves at least 2 people
- Communication is the most efficient and organized method for transmitting information. For most people that means speech or writing but for students who are nonverbal it looks different. It may be a combination of vocalizations, gestures (including some signs), body language and/or pictures.
- Communication is done with a purpose/reason; such as sharing needs or wants, having social interaction. The primary functions of communication is to: Express wants and needs, exchange information, for social closeness and for social etiquette.
- Communication skills help to increase independence and control over one's environment.
- Communication partners need to be sensitive to and respond to a variety of signals. A person will stop trying to communicate if they feel they are not being recognized and responded to.
- Communication is not just speech. Any number of non-verbal modes may be used, such as facial expression, or body language. According to Linda Hogdon in her book, Visual Strategies for Improving Communication, communication is:
- 55% Visual – things we see like gestures, facial expressions, body movements, objects in the environment
- 37% Vocal – intonation patterns, rate, and intensity or volume
- 7% Verbal
Individuals with significant cognitive and communication challenges may not readily initiate communication. A number of barriers can hinder the acquisition of communication, choice making and literacy skills for individuals with significant disabilities.
- Attitudinal barriers
- Low expectations
- Limited opportunities
- Professional training
- Inadequate adaptations and support tools
Be Patient! Respond to all of your child or adult's communication attempts. Treat random actions and sounds as intentional communication. Your responses to their actions and sounds will help them to understand that those sound and actions have an effect on others, therefore they can have some control and choices in their life. And, please, please, please provide choices often throughout their day. We all deserve to have a choice.
Remember Natural Consequences and set High Expectations:
- Presume competency
- Respond as if utterance were purposeful
- Consider receptive language
- Positive attitude/Believe they can
- Real words and phrases
- Sign language or modified sign
- Pointing or exchange of pictures
- Vocalizations and sounds
- Leading gestures
- Pointing gestures
- Reaching gestures
- Pushing objects (away or toward)
- Holding or pointing to real objects
- Facial expressions
- Eye gaze
- Head nod or shake
- Body orientation
- Watch for subtle and unconventional communication cues.
- Observe communication intentions in a wide variety of settings.
- Recognize and respond to the student's communication attempts.
- Provide wait time for response to requests.
A voice (using any type of system needed by the student, including a output device, communication book, eye gaze, etc.) can be used to:
- Gain attention or initiate a conversation
- Ask for something
- Greet or to say good-bye
- Having give and take conversations
- Actively participating in a group
- Asking and answering questions
- Giving Directions
- Taking Turns
Please honor and respect that if a person has complex communication needs, it does not mean they do not have something to say.
- A valuable tool to print and post and share with parents, educational assistants, general education teacher and even other students: "Communication Bill of Rights".
- Stepping Stones to Developing Communication Strategies This is a general framework for selecting expressive skills to work on with the student. Although they are all basic skills, they are very functional in that we all use these skills, only in more sophisticated ways. For example, we all communicate that we are aware of others by looking at them, or speaking with them. At the end of the handout, there is a checklist to identify those communication skills that the student already demonstrates and the ones that he is presently working on.
- Learn how your student can make choices, have a voice, and communicate in other ways: Communication and Social Strategies
- My favorite resource for providing brief descriptions along with 30 second videos on various Muti-Modal communication strategies is from the Bridge School. I often use these with staff as they are quick and to the point. Having visuals of each strategy is extremely helpful.