I was recently required to fill out a multi-page questionnaire about Alex’s communication skills. I took a quick look at this document, put it back, and made arrangements to fill it out with the help of school staff. That’s been done.
I arrived during the lunch hour (which lasts significantly less than an hour, but we still took an hour, so I got to say “Hi!” to Alex) to sit down with Alex’s teacher and go over the questionnaire page by page. The issue, which I found difficult to explain, was that the words they used to elicit information left significant room for interpretation.
So, our process consisted of:
- Reading the question aloud.
- Agreeing on what the question probably means.
- Applying the question to our observations of Alex.
- Agreeing on an appropriate answer.
This process stimulated some interesting insights about Alex’s means of communication. Without having been asked the questions and forced to articulate a response, I probably wouldn’t have volunteered some of the answers they were looking for.
Some of the things that we could readily agree on were:
- Alex’s expressive communication skills are limited to readily tangible wants and needs.
- Alex’s receptive communication skills are unknown: We don’t know how much Alex understands or how sophisticated his comprehension is.
- Alex tries to communicate in ways we don’t understand and seeks ways to make himself understood, yet he also gives in to frustration or gives up and we don’t always recognize his attempts to communicate.
- Successful communication is limited to a select group of people who know Alex well enough to “listen” in the ways that he can communicate, but even then much of the time there is a failure to communicate and “listen” successfully.
We also agreed that the ideal situation is to provide Alex with a means to communicate that can be expanded to communicate more complex thoughts and feelings. This means a system that is limited to expressing wants and needs would be inadequate, even if it were able to help Alex communicate wants and needs more clearly and more universally.
Furthermore, we agreed that the ideal situation would use Alex’s strengths to his advantage. The primary implication here is that Alex excels, in a seemingly intuitive sort of way, in the use of touch technologies. He uses iPads and SmartBoards at school and a Kindle Fire at home, and he’s able to figure out their capabilities more quickly and in more depth than most of the adults around him.
Not only did this process take us a step closer to getting Alex the professional help he needs to be paired with the right technological assistive communication device/program, it also helped his teacher and I better understand what Alex is doing now to communicate with us. Hopefully, this insight will help us to reduce the frustrations and failures and increase the success and depth of communication with the skills Alex already has.
Ironically, it started with a questionnaire that, due to its seeming ambiguity, could be described as an example of poor communication (based on my standards as a professional writer).