Tuesday, 25 October 2016

There was a "silent" afternoon tea

at our place - only I think we may have to redefine "silent".
Let it be said that it started with our friend P.... phoning me and asking me how many people I expected to come because she was making apple slice. P is a nun and was once a teacher of the deaf so we did a little plotting about how to manage the rest of them.
Then V....our neighbour, whom I had also invited, wandered over in the middle of the morning and asked about "tomorrow". No, "today" I told her. Oh. I was making a pot of tea for the Senior Cat but she stayed and chatted for a bit before saying she would be back in the afternoon. I went to find the Senior Cat because he had not come in for his cup of tea. 
I found him sitting on the ground, unable to get up. He had slid off the seat he was sitting on. Fortunately he had not hurt himself but I had to go and ask V's husband M.... to come and help him up again. I was still trying to do the things I had not been able to do the day before - especially those involved with having visitors.
But P turned up on time with slice in hand. (It is lovely slice being not too sweet.) And then V came over - and the two of them promptly started talking! I growled (nicely) but it didn't make a lot of difference although V was totally startled when she asked P if she could tell her about going to the ballet on Saturday in sign language. V had not asked with any expectation at all that P could actually do it but P went ahead as calmly as she does everything else.
The other guests arrived - and they all started talking. I threw up my paws in despair and handed out communication boards instead. I had made special communication boards - just for afternoon tea. There would, I told them sternly, be no afternoon tea unless they asked for it silently.
There was instant silence. They searched. They looked at one another. They pointed to the words and symbols. They puzzled over the "combine" and "opposite meaning" symbols.
I took orders - and signed them to P... who always helps me with the carrying of things like tea pots. She acted as "mother" and poured tea and passed over coffee. It was all done in silence.
Then someone said, "Thank you" without thinking - and we all collapsed into laughter. They gave up.
"That was so hard Cat!"
"How do people do it?"
"I wanted to say weak tea. How was I supposed to say that?" 
"How do you say....?"
I showed them how to say what they needed to say and I think they were surprised by just how much you could say with so few symbols. They had not realised how many meanings they could make by combining symbols to or using "opposite meaning". 
But all of that didn't really matter. Even with that small experience they had all come to realise that communicating is not a simple matter. 
We all take the capacity to communicate for granted - even I do that most of the time. I say something. I expect to be understood. I listen and I expect to understand. In my job it doesn't always happen of course but, most of the time, I am looking at a screen. I can translate the squiggles on the screen into something I can understand. 
Not that long ago I had to go into the local library and find a reference. I used one of the library computers to send the information off. One of the staff came to find out if it had gone through and I showed them what I was sending. To them it must have looked like nothing more than tiny paw marks across the screen because they asked, "Can you actually read that?" 
Well yes, it's my job. I'm not sure the librarian was convinced.
But I came away from that encounter and yesterday's gathering once again in awe of people who have to always rely on using an augmentative or alternative communication aid.  It can be so incredibly difficult for them.
Learning to communicate is the single most important thing a person learns to do.

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