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Strategies for communicating with individuals with disability Learn how methods like touch and texture cues, signing systems and visual strategies are used to create tailored communication plans.
Woman Teaching Child To Communicate
Clara Ayudar Co-Founder & Disability Support WorkerView Bio

Communication is the fundamental basis for human relationships. It is an innate process that all human beings need to feel that they are part of something. Communication is essential not only as a means of expression but also to understand the world around us. It is the exchange and circulation of information and ideas from one person to another.

54.1% of all primary carers have said they assisted or supervised the main person they cared for with communication. If there is a difficulty in this process, it can be beneficial to understand and try to solve any problems that are occurring.

Before talking about communication difficulties, it is necessary to be aware of our own communication skills and how we communicate. We must realise, if we already have a good level of communication skills, we are in a better position to adapt our own communication to help other people who may have difficulties.

When it comes to the population with disabilities, communication skills can be restricted by physical or physiological reasons and the act of speaking can be challenging. This is why when supporting a person with disability, we must focus on their communication strengths.

We need to identify in what ways an individual with disability is trying to communicate. Even if they do not communicate orally, it does not mean that they do not try to communicate in different ways. This will depend on the level of disability that each person has and also on the stimulation that they had in their first years of life.

Communication Apps Being Used Communication Apps Being Used

Once the communication method has been identified, we will start from there to reinforce and improve those communication channels. This may sound simple, but it actually requires a lot of attention and patience.

People who do not use speech to communicate, will do so with different methods. Some examples are changes in facial expression, body language, and behavior changes. For that reason, it is important to instruct the people around you to observe and interpret these changes. With this communication information, you can choose appropriate aids to maximize the use of these methods. The goal being to understand and be understood no matter what your method of communication you use.

There are different types of approaches which are used to maximize resources and improve the communication of people who need it. This is not only beneficial for people with communication difficulties but also their families and caregivers since this will help to strengthen their relationships.

Again it is necessary to patiently evaluate different approaches to see what works for each individual because each person has different strengths and different needs. Below are some limited examples that are often used but by no means cover all aspects of communication. Each person is different, and some will use more than one way to communicate.

Touch Cues

These are ways to give people with learning disabilities, people who are deaf or blind, information about what is going to happen. Touch clues help people understand activities, people and places through the use of touch. This type of aids are used constantly in daily routines to help people to understand and make sense of their surroundings and to recognize those closest to them. Here is a 1 minute video demonstrating a couple of touch cues .

Facial Expression, Gestures and Body Language

The use of these can be of great help to people with communication problems and are mostly used to communicate non-verbally. Facial expressions and gestures can express a variety of feelings and thoughts. They can support a person in understanding a message that can't be understood through spoken language.

Signing Systems

There are different types of sign systems, which vary according to their complexity. The best known is sign language for people with hearing disabilities. This language includes a wide vocabulary, grammatical structure and also includes facial expression. Each country has its own sign language and sometimes some areas in the same countries will have some regional differences (such as having a local dialect or an accent). In Australia we use Auslan which is considered as a complete language.

Communication Through Sign Language Communication Through Sign Language

There are also simpler sign systems like MAKATON. It is designed for people with special needs and includes hundreds of individual signs. These signs cover keywords and are very simple to use.

Images / Visual Strategies

These are mostly used by non-verbal individuals, people with learning difficulties or people with autism. Some people are visual learners and respond better to visual stimuli rather than auditory stimuli. This type of help can be used to represent single words, actions or to make decisions. Some people find it easier to follow a routine when it involves images. Visuals can also be used as additional clues to the spoken words.

Texture Cues / Objects of Reference

Through the use of tactile objects and symbols, people can create a wide range of options for communicating. These systems are used with people who have visual difficulties and / or severe learning difficulties and are non-verbal. This is a good method for people who don't have good motor skills to learn signs. In this method objects are used to give people an idea of what is going to happen. For example, give them a spoon to let them know it is time for dinner.

This type of communication can be used in more complex ways depending on the abilities of each individual. They can be combined with textures and other clues to give them further meaning. Here is another video that gives you an introduction to objects of reference .

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