by Barb Goode
Everyone should be treated with respect no matter how you express your feelings and talk about things that are important to you.
Many times I have seen how people who don’t speak to communicate are treated in ways that aren’t ok. People who communicate differently, or who need extra time to take part in a conversation, often feel very left out. They feel like everyone is talking around them and that no one is listening – like you don’t have something to say that is important. People who don’t use speech at all, who may use pictures or a device to talk, feel even more left out and excluded.
There are a lot of assumptions being made about people that don’t use speech to communicate. It is assumed that if you don’t talk, you don’t understand, or you don’t have something important to say. You are talked down to and treated like a child. Or you are ignored like you aren’t even there.
There are all different ways to communicate. We have to learn how to listen and include people in conversations without treating them like children.
I have a very close friend who has taught me a lot about how to communicate in other ways. It bugs me when we are together and people talk to me like she’s not there, or they talk down to her, or ask her a question and then answer it for her. People think it’s ok to talk about her in front of her. They don’t think she notices. But, she does. She knows when others are talking around her and not thinking about ways to include her in their conversation. I often see staff talking amongst themselves in the same room. We wouldn’t do that to someone who used typical speech and words to talk. Why is ok to do it to someone who uses other ways to communicate?
When I visit my friend people sometimes wonder why I’m not talking. She has taught me that there are other ways to be together and communicate without talking. There are certain things she does that I know what she’s saying just by the way she moves. I can tell how she feels about things just by looking at the expression on her face. Conversations sometimes look different because we talk to each other in different ways. I don’t always know what to talk about, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes just sitting together is enough.
We need to learn how to be conversation with people in different ways – like sitting quietly with each other and enjoying each other’s company for the person they are and not what they say.
So often we are the ones who aren’t getting it. Not the other way around. So instead of assuming that they don’t have something to say or that they don’t understand, try and listen in a different way. Think about how little control one must feel in their life when there is always someone else thinking they know what you want and what is good for you.
Talking in plain language helps, but are other ways to help people have choice and control by using pictures and learning to ask questions and listen in different ways. It is important to give people time to understand. Don’t be in a rush. The best conversations are filled with emotion and feelings and you don’t need words for that. Pictures say a lot, body language says a lot and sitting quietly says a lot.
Don’t take over, even if you think you know them really well. Even if you think you know what they would say. Don’t guess. Give people a chance to communicate in their own way and learn how to listen in new ways. I promise you will learn things you never knew.
Talk slower. Talk less. Don’t talk. Communication isn’t measured by words. – Linus Mundy