Janice Light said it best: “Communication is the essence of human life.” When defining this “human life”, there’s no simple answer. Take an internet deep dive and you will find a sea of perspectives. You’ll probably find a lot of ongoing debate too. But you will also find themes in common:
That last word, “connection” is what we want to think about.
A connection is needed to form a relationship (whether momentary or lifelong, simple or complex, friend or foe). We need these connections, these relationships, to fulfill our human need to be social. (But don’t forget, this “social need” may look different from person to person!). Regardless of who we are, our interests, our language, or our abilities, we can all feel a connection.
And how do we make these connections? Through communication.
Now the current culture can be very data driven and goal oriented. We want Sydney to do X, Y, Z. We want Jordan to be able to request and make choices. We want Matthew to say “please” and “thank you” across 80% of opportunities. Data and goals are useful. They can show what is working and what isn’t. But are the goals FOR the person or ABOUT the person?
How is this data meaningful to Sydney, Jordan, and Matthew? Are they communicating for compliance? Or communicating for connection?
But eventually, those goals and that data are going to be forgotten.
What the person will remember is the relationship that was built and the conversation that happened. Sydney will remember sharing ideas and creating memories with friends and family. Jordan will remember instructing staff and making important life decisions. Matthew will remember sharing a funny story and everyone laughing together.
What actually matters are the connections.
By working together with a person to find their best way to communicate, whether it’s through spoken word, sign, or a speech-generating device, we are building that connection together. But we also need to think about what this connection looks like. It needs to be about more than following directions or stopping an “inappropriate” behavior; it needs to be about more than compliance. Are we working together to build communication skills for connection or for compliance?
So let’s just have a conversation with the people we care about. Share a thought, make a joke, tell a story. It’s ok to disagree, and it’s ok to not like what someone else has to say. There’s more to this “human life” than requesting and complying. Together we can change the perspective. Chat, communicate, connect.
Light, J. C. (1997). `Communication is the essence of human life’: Reflections on communicative competence. AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 13(2), 61-70. https://doi.org/10.1080/07434619712331277848