Communication is key.
The ability to communicate, and be heard, is a necessity of life!
Communication is key in a marriage, with children, with parents, in the work place, in church, in public, in the classroom……everywhere. One just looks at any news outlet to see what happens when people cannot communicate…anger, violence, uprisings, so much bad!
I am a firm believer that communication lessens frustration. I instruct students with severe developmental disabilities. Their disabilities can be extensive, but the inability to communicate is a difficult limitation.
In teaching students with limited or no means to communicate – it is a given that their frustration level will be high! The frustration can evidence as screaming, hitting, throwing, running, silence, or anything. I have felt the same way!
I experienced a short, minute timeframe of no verbal communication, when I had laryngitis for two weeks many years ago. The laryngitis was so severe, I could not whisper.
People disconnected when I answered the phone, often saying, “No one is there.” It angered me.
No one listened to me. The exhaustion of trying to make myself understood was too much effort, and often I would sit and not even try to contribute…and it angered me.
I found my level of anger would go from 0 to 1000 in the blink of an eye. I remember my children were in their bedrooms upstairs and I went to the bottom of the stairs to call them – nothing came out except a raspy, quiet sound.
So, I tried again.
Finally, (in a total time frame of three seconds), I hit the wall hard, with my open hand several times in total frustration. Wow! From calm to physical in less than three seconds…and I knew my condition was temporary.
My children promptly came to the top of the steps, and said they were sorry, but could not hear me. The slapping of the wall got results, which is why students scream, yell, get angry, etc., because in the absence of a voice – the action gets results.
I sat down and thought about how I felt. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I wanted to throw something in frustration, because of my limited ability. I also wanted to cry due to mental exhaustion, even though I knew that I would get my voice back.
No wonder my nonverbal students could be so angry!
Communication is priority – and it became the classroom priority.
I will often apologize to a child for not understanding (whether it is screaming, crying, or silence). I will say, “I am sorry that I do not understand, so please help me.” This will often get the student involved in solving the problem, instead of just receiving everyone else’s ideas for solutions.
In the moment of frustration, communication must be simple.
Communication can be as simple as holding two hands in front of a child, and saying “are you hungry? Yes or no?” and showing two closed hands, palms up. Open one when you say “yes”, open the other when you say “no”. Let them choose, whether by touching the hand, looking at the hand or nodding toward the hand. Acknowledge any method that they choose – and wait before you repeat, to give them time to make a choice.
The act of being heard is amazing!
It is joyful, happy, uplifting, and, yes, freeing! There are many, many ways to communicate with someone who has difficulty expressing themselves. This is a simple way that is mobile, easy to use, and does not require any equipment. The question can be changed to suit the need – it also works with babies and toddlers.
And…always tell the person thank you for letting you know what they wanted. It is a privilege that they chose you.