A consistent complaint from people who don't use verbal communication (and of their families) is that people tend not to speak directly to them. The conversation is often directed to the person’s family or caregivers instead. Here are some tips for including people who don't use verbal language in conversations, and to make it clear that their input and opinions matter.
Introduce yourself to the individual first, and then to other family members.
Ask the person’s caregivers/companions how the person usually communicates, as well as their level of involvement in decision-making.
Establish how the individual indicates “yes” and “no.” Ideas of some simple methods for yes/no responses are looking up for “yes” and down for “no,” blinking eyes once for “yes” and twice for “no,” using a tight fist for “yes” and an open hand for “no,” or pointing to/looking at “yes” or “no” picture cards or written words.
Ask the person if it’s okay to ask their family members questions about them. Even if they don’t respond, it will show respect for their opinions.
Even if the conversation is mainly directed toward the caregivers, involve the individual by providing eye contact to them and using their name.
Try to be patient, no matter how rushed you are. Remember that, for people who communicate with modes other than speech, conversations may take longer than usual. Wait time may be needed for the person to use a communication system to respond.
Don’t pretend to understand a response if you haven’t. Ask the person to repeat/rephrase, or ask a family member to interpret.
Get down to the individual’s level and talk to them face-to-face, using eye contact.
Allow extra processing time.
Offer choices using objects, flashcards, or picture icons.
For more information about increasing communication skills for people who don’t use spoken language, contact us: In Sioux Falls, 605-444-9700. In Sioux City, 712-226-ABLE (2253). In Rapid City, 605-791-7400.
Learn more about our therapy services here.
-Carrie Vermeer M.A., CCC-SLP, LifeScape