Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It is AAC Awareness Month

which, for those of you who do not know, means it is Augmentative and Alternative Communication Month....a time to give special attention to the needs of people with communication disabilities.
Now, as my fellow cats will tell you, I miaou far too much and far too often - and probably far too loudly. I like to be heard - if I have something to say. I also engage in everyday social mewsings or chat.
I consider myself fortunate in the extreme to be able to do this. The friend who had a stroke just before Christmas last year now has great difficulty in getting out more than two or three words. Sometimes they are inappropriate and sound ridiculous in the context but can actually be related to what she is trying to tell you. As an example the other day she said "Periscope hurts". What she was trying to say was that she had a headache in the region behind her eyes.
Her younger cousin actually sorted that out and understood it. It took a while and a few more questions. When she was finally understood appropriate action was taken by the staff and, quite possibly, another migraine was avoided.
But, it took time and time is often what the staff in a nursing home do not have. They don't have the training or the knowledge to deal with issues of communication. It is faster and easier to do what they think is right, rather than finding out if it is actually what the patient wants or needs.
I remember when I was teaching in a school for children with profound physical and (supposedly) intellectual disabilities. There was one child who had been placed there by accident. He had come from a home where English was not spoken. Assumptions had been made about his ability to understand because how do you understand English when you have never had a chance to learn it?
He was in my group. He had been in school two years by then. I was puzzled by his alert, eager face and his obvious curiosity. Compared with the other children he was all too obviously, to me, taking in a great deal even though he could only communicate by looking up for "yes" and down for "no".  Oh yes, it took a while but we found other ways to communicate. He went on to learn to read (a huge challenge for both of us ) and was transferred to another school where the education was much more appropriate to his obvious intellectual capacity.
It still takes time to communicate with him. He has a complex communication board of 516 symbols in two languages - the maximum number we could "eye-code" for. His family manage it well. Strangers don't always get it right. Sometimes I don't get it right because I don't often see him now.
There was a "chat" on Twitter last night. Some of those who joined in are users of AAC but they have a far greater physical capacity than he does. One of them mentioned that she does not engage in everyday "social chat". It takes time and effort if you are a user of AAC. He does not engage in that sort of casual conversation either.
But, I thought, watch his expression, "listen" to his eyes. His family don't ignore him in social settings but many people do.
If you meet someone who cannot communicate in the normal way give them time, allow them to engage in a little "social" chat as well. It's part of being human.


Helen Devries said...

I've seen this to a slight degree when my husband has had an attack which leaves his face and lips paralysed for a while and he has great difficulty in being understood.

I find that it helps to know what he is likely to be wanting to say - not always easy, but much more difficult for nursing staff who do not know him.

catdownunder said...

That is one of the biggest problems of all isn't it? Medical (and aid) staff often have very little time - and it takes time even when you know a person well.