Everyone loves to get a present.
It's fun to tear off the wrapping. It's exciting to dream about what is inside a box. It's thrilling to see the faces of people you love as they discover what you got for them.
But not all gifts come in bright packaging or tied with bows.
This season, and all year through, we hope that you will strive to give the gift of communication to the people around you.
And, yes, that includes bringing AAC to those who need communication support -- but that's not the whole of it, or even the half of it.
The gift of communication goes much, much deeper than just providing a person with a way to speak -- although we don't want to discount that AT ALL.
Communication is about listening, engaging, sharing, understanding, and being understood.
It's about caring what another person thinks and feels. It's about wanting to know what's happening in their mind, what they like, what they want, and what they need.
So, to support and encourage communication partners everywhere we wanted to share 10 communication gifts that we can all give at any time of year.
We hope you'll choose to share one (or many) of these gifts as you work with the communicators around you -- it's something we're working on too!
Simply being aware of a communicator is the perfect starting point. Knowing that a person needs the chance to share their thoughts and paying attention so you don't miss those opportunities means giving communication the chance to happen. Watch for cues, present openings for choices or conversations, acknowledge each person's right to communicate.
It's hard to communicate amid chaos so clear the clutter so you can both focus. Be willing to give your full attention to the message being shared and the response you choose to give. Get down at eye level, set down your papers, tell others they need to wait a minute. Make it clear that you are interested in talking to this person and you're willing to set other things aside to help that happen.
When a person shares a message with you trust that what they have to say matters to them. Don't discount this message as insignificant. Don't assume they didn't mean to say what they did. Don't push off their words as incoherrent or worthless. Trust them so they can trust you as a communicator.
Hearing a message is one thing, but understanding it is another. Don't be afraid to show your understanding or lack of understanding. "Oh, you like the color green?" "It sounds like you want to go home." "I didn't quite understand, will you give me another clue?" Help your communicator see that their words matter and that you want to actually understand them, not just hear them.
Along that same line, be willing to ask questions. It helps you get to the heart of the shared message AND it lets your communicator see that you care about what they actually think and feel. Use questions to start a conversation, to better grasp a person's meaning, to discover what they want, or even to encourage them to correct you ("Do you think we should go out to the playground?" on a really rainy day). Questions are powerful communication tools.
Acknowledging that a person has shared a message shows them that their words count. When we validate any and every communication -- even if we have to say something like, "Now is not the time for that, we are working on this right now" -- we are teaching our communicators that we hear them and we affirm their right to commuicate. They learn that they have the right to communicate.
Every single communication matters. People communicate for a reason. Their messages begin inside and blossom into words and actions. Every communication is a glimpse into a person's soul in one way or another. We may agree, we may not. The timing may be great, it may not. The message may be clear, it may not. But when we choose to accept a communication for what it is -- sharing from one person to another -- we not only show that the communication matters, we show that the person matters.
Communication takes time. Sometimes a lot of time. Sometimes an uncomfortable amount of time. But remember that gift above -- acceptance. Isn't that worth a little bit of our time. Count to 10 in your mind. Smile expetanctly. Prompt if needed. Put it on your daily calendar if a reminder helps. Whatever you do, be willing to give communication the time it needs to take place.
We must remember that communication goes far beyond just our words. Say "You look great" with a smile and it means something totally different than "You look great" with a sneer. The words we say will carry very little weight if we don't open our hearts to those that we work with to communicate. When we remember their favorite color, acknowledge their new fingernail polish, or ask if they've seen a new movie they learn that our interest in them goes beyond only their ability to perform tasks. Maybe they won't respond -- but maybe they will. And over time they will feel like they matter, and what more important message could be possibly share.
The real heart of communication is building connections. It's great to tell someone what you want for lunch, that you need to use the bahtroom, or which animal you like best but deep down when we communicate we are sharing pieces ourselves with those around us and hoping that they will do the same. We create connections that strengthen our relationships and help us to grow as individuals and communities.
May your all your communications be merry and bright!