Communicating Clearly

This article shines a spotlight on total communication (TC), the approach we use to help our service users exchange information.

Communicating is not just about speech. There are lots of different ways people can communicate, which is just as well because many people with learning disabilities may have difficulty in understanding and using speech. Using facial expressions and body gestures, key word signing, using objects of reference, using pictures and symbols, plus the use of electronic aids; these are all methods of communicating that we have at our disposal.

With this as our starting point, today's 90 minute training session in total communication, was led by Support worker and TC coordinator Glyniss Welch and service user Callum. Together, they expertly led us through an introduction to TC. Using simple language, in short sentences and not speaking too fast, Glyniss was able to get across how important and useful it is to adapt our communication methods to the needs of those we support. She explained that everyone will have their preferred way of communicating and that we try to respect this and be consistent as a team. With Callum's help, the training group were able to talk about examples of good practice and areas we might improve.

The last part of the training session was all about key word signing. It's an easy way of giving meaning through visual support. Our handouts contained 100 useful words and Callum showed us how each one is done. We were careful to do them several times, whilst saying the word we were signing. The trick, as was pointed out, will be to use as many as we can in our daily interactions, particularly with those individuals whom we've identified would benefit the most.

That may have been the end of our training session but Callum had one last duty to perform - a TC audit of our head office facility. Using the Speech and Language Therapy Service audit checklist, he was able to tick off our compliances and make a note of our areas of action required. One thing that we were able to conclude, was the labelling of the kitchen cupboards. Using black and white easy read symbols, individuals unfamiliar to our kitchen, will now have no trouble finding their way around. We will of course act upon Callum's recommendations when they come through and in doing so, we'll have taken another step forward in communicating clearly.

Our thanks to Hywel Dda University Health Board's Speech and Language Therapy Service for use of their signing images.

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