After having a rough day at her new program, I knew a meeting needed to be set up pronto. The following week, I met with Jess’s job coaches and program manager. While we were huddled together at a small table, Jess was sitting with her group, with her back to us and was eavesdropping in our conversation. The focus wasn’t about her per se, but showing them how the app Speak for Yourself works on Jess’s Talker.
There are many things that contribute to Jess having a bad day, but 99% of the time it’s due to a communication breakdown.
Everyone always assumes Jess is the one with the problem, however, I’m realizing that most of the time, they don’t know how to talk to someone who uses an ACC device. The big secret is there is no secret. Whether a person is verbal or uses a Talker, the same etiquette applies.
The first part of the meeting was an overview of SFY. This is Jess’s voice and it’s vital they understand her language. I could see that they were overwhelmed by Jess’s home page. Most likely they were thinking, if it was difficult for them, how could Jess possibly access this to talk? I explained that Jess began with a few words and then words are added as she needed/used them. This isn’t the same as learning vocabulary and word meaning, as it is motor planning and where to find the word. In the beginning, you scan for the word you are looking for. As you get more proficient, your finger automatically knows where to find the word without thinking. This is how we all access a keyboard. We don’t think about each letter we need to tap as we type.
The second part of the meeting was to show them how to be a good communication partner:
- When you ask a question, WAIT for the answer. Wait for Jess to finish a phrase. Sometimes she is looking for the exact word that completes her thought. Once she has done this, she will look at you and then it’s your turn to talk.
- Sometimes Jess will use a word approximation. This means, if she can’t find the exact word (because it’s not there and needs to be added), she will use a word that sounds like it.
- If Jess talks about something that doesn’t make sense, she might be trying to tell you something she has done, or something she is thinking about. It helps to understand the context in order to understand the meaning. Not always easy with an AAC user, but I’ve learned to politely go with the conversation, just as I would anyone who is talking. Sometimes you have to hear more before you understand the point.
At the end of the session, I shared a video of Jess using her Talker in a conversation. (This is an old video, but it’s my favorite. I don’t take many videos of her talking, but I should). At this point, they had their ah ha moment. Unfortunately, people don’t really understand what someone is capable of until they witness for themselves. You really can’t/never/shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.
The following day, the job coach was very excited! Jess had a great day! Now when Jess talked to them, the job coach knew how to support her. Once Jess felt understood, then she willingly participated with the rest of the group.
The foundation of happiness is communication.
Life is so much better when everyone is happy.