Communication is really about sharing messages in the best way possible. The key is finding ways to help your relative understand other people and for you and others to find the best ways of understanding their communication. It is about focusing on what your relative can do and is doing (rather than what they are not).
Video: "Supporting good communication"
Communication is important for everyone and we all communicate in a range of ways. People with learning disabilities often experience communication difficulties but still have important messages to express. Communication is not just about people speaking and signing. It can also be about using objects and pictures, special devices, facial expression, body language and other gestures and sounds - these are just some examples.
When people’s communication options are limited, life can become very frustrating and there is an increased likelihood of behaviours that challenge and other emotional difficulties. The changes caused by COVID-19 could mean that your relative is experiencing more difficulties than usual (e.g. they might have less access to their usual communication systems - such as visual schedules) and so may need some extra support in this regard. Here are some different areas to consider:
Building on Existing Communication Systems
Try to ensure you are carrying on with all the effective communication tools your relative has previously had in place. Many schools and services closed quite quickly. This might mean that whatever support for communication used in those settings did not come back with your relative. Try to get these supports sent to you if possible. This might be a list of key communication strategies or some visual supports or a different sort of communication aid.
Helping Your Relative Understand Your Communication
Lots of things are different right now, including key people, key activities and key events. These changes can be difficult to communicate to someone with a learning disability. You can help support your relative to better understand the messages you and others are trying to communicate to them by doing these things:
Video: "Reducing demands of communication"
Considering different communication methods can also help make things clearer. Here are some more ideas to try:
Supporting your relative to communicate
Understanding what and how your relative communicates is often not easy. They might have few or no words or formal signs and mostly express themselves through other means. Family carers are, however, often the people best placed to find this out. This means being like a detective to try and focus on what your relative is trying to indicate (by their words, expression, behaviours).
In times of stress and anxiety, we all find communication harder, so it might be that your relative is finding it harder to communicate at the moment. This also makes it harder for you, but try to:
1. Use your expert knowledge of what they are most likely to be thinking/feeling/needing. What is your relative most likely to be communicating at the time?
2. Use your expert knowledge about the ways in which your relative expresses themselves. They will always be trying to get a message across in the best way that they can.
There are LOTS of ways your relative might be able to express their message. To figure out the ways they do this you might also ask yourself questions like this:
There are some things we all need to be able to communicate. Knowing how your relative expresses these messages can be very useful. Can you discover how your relative expresses these messages by their signs, gestures, words, body movements, facial expressions, sounds or other acts?
What might you notice about your relative if they:
were in pain or discomfort;
needed you or another person;
wanted to be alone;
wanted something they liked or to keep doing something they liked;
did not like or did not want to do something;
needed to know something.
Wanted to tell you something