by Tina Stone
Communication is not always what you hear. Sometimes, it is what you see.
|I was a caregiver for over 20 years and for a good majority of the time I worked with people with severe mental and physical disabilities. Many of whom were nonverbal, yet if one took the time, I realized they were constantly communicating. I am, by nature a very talkative person. I was raised that when you walk into a room, you address those in the room. When you leave a room, again, you address those in the room. It is just good manners!
Despite the fact the clients I worked with at the time were nonverbal, I still chatted and talked to them as I would anyone else. Oh, boy, did I talk to them! I would chat about the weather, current events If I was dusting, I'd talk about dusting, If they were watching a tv show, I'd talk about the tv show. Many times, my clients would simply look at me. Sometimes I'd get a grunt or some sort of communication via body language.
One day, I was in the living room and three clients were sitting and from the front window, you could see several squirrels playing in the yard and chasing each other around a tree. I was pointing this out and talking about how fun squirrels are and how I bet they were playing for nuts...yes, I was kinda being silly with the conversation but I could tell my clients were engaging. I worked with two other staff on my shift and one of the other staff entered the room, listened and said,
"I don't know why you bother talking to them. It's not like they are going to answer you." I could not believe that coworker said that! Obviously she had never stopped to "listen" to their nonverbal communication. Or, she just didn't care.
"You never know, they just might surprise you one day!" Was my response and I went back to my squirrel conversation.
About a month later, it was December and several clients, all three staff were in the living room along with my supervisor were putting up a Christmas tree. Each item I picked up, I commented on and showed the clients. I could tell they were engaged and excited. I picked up a wooden Angel ornament that was white with a gold halo and I held it up and showed one particular client who was right next to me.
"Look Rosey, an angel," I said. "You want to put the angel on the tree?" As I was handing her the ornament, just as plain and clear as could be, she looked right at me and said, "AN ANGEL."
Everyone stopped and looked at her shocked! Had she really just said that?? We all heard her. This nonverbal lady who had never spoken a word in her life. Several of the staff tried to coax her into saying it again but she just looked at them. She never repeated the word. As far as I know, she never said anything verbally again. We all talked about it for months afterward.
I wanted so badly to tell that staff, at that moment, THAT is why I CHOOSE to talk to my clients. I've always known they are listening. I've always been sensitive to their nonverbal communication. So many caregivers miss out on so much simply because they are deaf to what their clients are telling them. Just because they are labeled as nonverbal and just because they do not speak with an audible voice, does not mean they do not communicate!