Sharon Cole - British Nanny
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Communication is a basic human need. It empowers individuals to connect, control and feel part of a family and community.
I have dedicated my life to bringing the joy of communication to everyone through my work as a speech-language pathologist. It is my goal that each and every person I encounter feels that they have been heard. After all, just because a person can’t speak doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.
My interest in Communication for all started when I was a young child of about 7. Growing up in an orphanage in Britain, I was privy to a vast array of communications. Children of many nationalities and abilities became my family, along with their unique ways of communicating. Some verbalized in a foreign tongue, while others used their hands to sign their messages, and still others communicated through pointing to pictures or acting out. We all had one important thing in common. We all wanted to communicate our thoughts and feelings. We all wanted to be heard, to connect and exist. We were children under the age of 18 who had become invisible to the outside world.
Having known that feeling of invisibility from such a young age, however, gave me insight into what true communication is and how it should be available to all.
For people with varying types and degrees of disability, being “heard” can be particularly difficult.
Communicating with a special needs child will require extra patience, extra time and a willingness to be an effective communication partner. An awareness of “Total Communication” (using all and every available means to get and receive a communicative intent) is important for true effective communication.
The following are a few strategies that can be used to encourage effective and functional communications.
Remember that all behavior is communication. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a session with a young child only to have a toy thrown at me. That child is communicating loud and clear. I always acknowledge their communicative intent as I rapidly reshape their way of requesting. One of my younger nonverbal clients would initially grab my bag of goodies and scream, hit and bite to communicate his needs. Message received. Once he saw that I was acknowledging his communication intent, we could begin work on a more socially acceptable way to communicate. For this little guy, a picture communication book was introduced and those other behaviors quickly reduced.
Make it meaningful
Everyone responds best to people, places and things that are meaningful and keep them interested. Communication is no different. Find out about the child’s hobbies or special interest. Does she like to draw? Is he passionate about dinosaurs?
Explore different options
Keep trying different things. Be creative. If one method of communicating doesn’t work, try another. What are this child’s strengths and interests? We live in an age where technology has given us communication options and freedoms once considered impossible. The following is a short list of options from simplest to more complicate. Which ones you use will depend on the age, level, interest and abilities of the child
• pointing to objects
• picture communication systems
• non-verbal body language (body positioning, eye contact, etc.)
• sign language
• computer programs
• speech generating devises
• vocalizing (or using speech)
For some children who have severe hearing loss or poor oral muscle control, speech is the most difficult. Many children will use more than one of these options to functionally communicate their wants and needs.
Communication is a fluid, often changing interaction. If you’re communicating with a young child, it will often be your responsibility to monitor how well the communication is going. Be prepared to change either the topic or the method of conversation
Stay focused in the
We are surrounded by various types of distractors. While checking our phones every few minutes may seem harmless, it can be very disconnecting for poor communicators who often have difficulty staying on task. Your communication partner wants to know that you are focused on their message.
Communication is a right for all and fundamental to a child’s development. It’s at the core of all relationships and essential for play and learning. According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Sharon Cole is a speech-language pathologist and proud grandmother based in Brunswick. She is the owner of Vocally Clear Communications PLLC. Vocally Clear’s goal is to promote effective communication for all ages. She can be reached at Vocallyclear.com or message her at “British Nanny” on Facebook.