Story By Katie & Steve Keene
In 14 years of helping people communicate with my special needs children, and watching communications occur in countless therapy and hospital waiting rooms, I’ve seen the same handful of mistakes occur over and over again. I didn’t notice them at first, but after so many recurring circumstances, I began to notice trends, and then saw patterns.
I remember the days when I wasn’t sure how to properly communicate, even though I was always drawn to love people in the special needs community, and I wished I could have had a list of tips to help me fell at ease.
With this simple list, you can avoid making the following mistakes and employ these helpful tips, which will empower you to confidently reach out to special needs people in the community around you,to share your kindness and respect with them, while enjoying the richness they will undoubtedly bring to your heart.
Many of my most fulfilling friendships and conversations have come from relationships with people who have some form of handicap, and live their life authentically as who they are. It’s such a blessing, and I know you will also be blessed.
Here are some helpful tips:
Pretend they are not there.
Tip #1: Approach each individual with respect for their humanity, regardless of the challenges their physical body presents them with. Smile, make eye contact, and if given the opportunity just be your kind wonderful self, as if you were speaking with your favorite neighbor. It’s okay if there can’t be reciprocal communication! Relax, and offer your presence as a gift to someone who deserves to be included in life.
Expect the same response times as you do from typical adults or children.
Many individuals with special needs have longer processing times to respond to others.
Their body fights them, even though their mind is ready to respond like yours is. Be patient. Slow down. Wait.
Watch for facial movements, breathing changes, eye motions, and anything that indicates that there is a response to you.
The person inside wants to connect with you, which is a basic human desire and need. So don’t rush it, enjoy having a few moments to slow down, which we all say we want anyway. Yay!
You may be surprised at what is able to unlock from the person when you have allowed the time to truly connect.
In our home, one of our children is 95% nonverbal. He is very social. He craves connection and loves to meet everyone! He sees through to the heart of each person. We will sing with him, and allow him the opportunity to say one word in each line, always working toward more. We accept any change in state of being as his response once we have waited and watched for it, even if it isn’t the word he wants to say for that line. This delights him, he feels included, we have related and connected, and sometimes he nails the right word! It’s always a surprise, and the connection is made which is what counts.
Assume they do not understand you.
Assume they understand EVERYTHING.
It is not acceptable to make assumptions based on your perceived ideas of what they can and cannot understand. Special needs individuals are bright minds trapped in broken bodies, and deserve the respect every person deserves, despite outward appearance. When communication lines are finally opened through technology and other techniques, it is shocking to see how brilliant these people are and the beauty that pours out of them, when previously they had always been viewed as incompetent.
Adult stroke patients experience being treated as incompetent when they cannot communicate, and explain later how this feels when their ability to speak returns. A lack of communication ability does not mean a lack of competence.
Assume odd behaviors are intentional.
Many odd behaviors are involuntary. Body movements, vocal sounds, and other curious behaviors are often the side effect of the struggle happening within the system of the body.
It is difficult for the person experiencing this, and emotionally devastating to be shunned for something they cannot control. Pay close attention to the person’s behavior and become aware of patterns as you interact, so that you can become at ease with how they react, and you will know what to expect, so that you no longer feel uncomfortable. Your life will be enriched, we promise!
Speak louder and slower.
Not all special needs people are deaf. Or dumb. They are often (probably ALWAYS– lol) smarter and sharper than I am. They just can’t get their body to cooperate enough to express it. So, speak at your normal, comfortable pace. Give longer pauses to watch for their reaction. And just enjoy being with someone who has no pretenses, is authentic, and isn’t pretending to be someone or something they aren’t. It is a rare gift to be in the presence of someone like this.
So there you have it. Now you know what to avoid and also what you CAN do!
When you can relax and lean into the conversations or interactions you can create with others, making it about them, and not about you, there is a magic and beauty that will come from the experience. You never you know, you might even make a new friend.
You can Connect with Katie & Steve via:
Facebook Page & Group: FamilySuccessSecrets