Thursday, 16 May 2013

#17 Getting Your Message Across However You Can

'Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person's ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence. Aphasia impairs the ability to speak and understand others, and most people with aphasia experience difficulty reading and writing.' (National Aphasia Association)

While volunteering with an aphasia support group over the past few weeks, I've been reminded that a large percentage of communication is non-verbal. There are several important things that can be helpful when trying to decipher what a person with a communication disorder is trying to express: the content of the conversation, what's happening in the surrounding environment, and knowing about the person to whom you are speaking, to name a few. These things are especially useful when some, or all of the person's message is being communicated non-verbally.

I've experienced plenty of non-verbal communication with Carter, including sign language, facial expressions, eye gazing and gestures; like pointing, giving a thumbs up or thumbs down, and nodding or shaking the head. I felt better prepared for interacting with the aphasia group participants thanks to  Carter.

During break last week, a gentleman in the group was having a conversation with a recreation therapy student (there on a co-op placement). The rec therapist made mention of the great weather and commented about getting out and about on the weekend. She asked the gentleman (that happened to be in a manual wheelchair) if it was a challenge for him to get around or would he be able to get out and enjoy the sunshine. Although the gentleman is able to speak, he sometimes has difficulty with word retrieval so his speech is not always fluent. He does quite well filling in the blanks with non-verbal communication though. He expressed (in words) that he would definitely be getting out to enjoy the nice weather and then he made a motor-like sound, just like a child would when playing with a toy car. The therapist didn't catch on to what he was trying to say and asked if he would be taking a bus ride or a car ride somewhere. He shook his head in frustration, said 'Vroom, vroooooooom' and made some gestures with his arms and hands. I asked if he had an electric wheelchair and his face lit up. He pointed at me and said 'Yes! Thank you.'

Whether we have a speech disorder or not, we all communicate in a variety of ways in hopes that we'll get our message across however we can.

Have you ever paid attention to your own non-verbal communication and how often you use it?

Disclaimer: Views in the Not Being Able to Speak series are derived from my personal experience with Carter. I do not speak on behalf of others with complex communication needs. It is not my intent to minimize or disregard the power of expression that can be found through the use of augmentative and alternative forms of communication.

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