The “Best” Way to Communicate

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Each person intuitively figures out what methods work for them. Our job is to watch carefully and take note. A person might make different gestures for different things. A person might make a certain sound to convey a particular message. A person may already be using signs or gestures. They might use other forms of simple messaging. We never want to take away, or disregard, what works for them. The best way a person communicates is usually a combination. Several modes and symbol systems at the same time. This is different for each person. Each person uses what works best for them.

The best way a person communicates might be through frustration. Some people who don’t talk get frustrated. They might have had years of not being able to get their point across. They might have figured out that heightened emotion gets noticed. We want negative behavior to stop. We don’t want communication to stop. What does the frustrating behavior communicate?

The best way a person communicates might be subtle. Some people who don’t talk, shut down and become passive. They have experienced roadblocks and failures when they try to communicate. The accumulation of these tiny failures build until the person gives up. They might seem like they don’t want to communicate. Their lack of engagement makes their communication more subtle. We might have to really get to know them.

There’s not just one “best” way to communicate for each person. Each person creates his or her own “best” way by combining whatever works. Most people use a lot of different tools to create their own system.


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Related Videos

This 10-minute video titled "If You Listen, You Will Hear Us", shows people with complex communication needs and their subtle communication.

Deepen Your Understanding

…The current best practices in facilitation and enhancement of communication among persons with severe disabilities reflect six major tenets:

  • communication is social behavior;
  • effective communicative acts can be produced in a variety of modes;
  • appropriate communicative functions are those that are useful in enabling individuals with disabilities to participate productively in interactions with other people;
  • effective intervention must also include efforts to modify the physical and social elements of environments in ways that ensure that these environments will invite, accept, and respond to the communication acts of persons with severe disabilities;
  • effective intervention must fully utilize the naturally occurring interactive contexts (e.g., educational, living, leisure, and work) that are experienced by persons with severe disabilities; and
  • service delivery must involve family members or guardians and professional and paraprofessional personnel.

These six tenets have resulted in assessment, intervention, and service delivery models that offer maximum responsiveness to the need to establish communication repertoires that will allow persons with severe disabilities to function effectively in the least restrictive environments—in productive interactions with others.