Help and Tips

How to improve communication in a group home environment – Part 2

Article by Sarah Cotter

Sarah Cotter is a speech pathologist and case worker. She has contributed a three-part series on communication in group homes to the Nest Blog. If you missed, Part 1, check it out before reading on.

Once you have the communication basics right, you can focus on other ways to improve communication between residents and the staff supporting them.

Create opportunity and expectation

It is not uncommon for people with significant communication impairments to have others talk for them, over them and at them. Most of the time this is not intentional or malicious, it is accidental. It is often faster to speak for someone rather than to wait out their own attempts to communicate. BUT this leads to learned helplessness, where individuals stop doing things they are capable of, because someone else always does things for or to them. Depression may also follow. We want to facilitate empowered people, who feel confident in their own worth. The trick to this is to create opportunities to communicate, and an expectation that the person will. But how?

Here are a few ideas: • Say a greeting – for example, “Good Morning!”. Then pause and look expectantly at the resident and wait for a response or return greeting.

o TIP: If the person has limited capacity to respond, interpret any response as intentional and meaningful. They will know you are interested and give you more and more as time goes on.

• Wait a few seconds before you say anything else, so the person has time to process what you said and respond.

o TIP: I tap my toes inside my shoes to mark time, to slow myself down and to make sure there is enough space for a response, without the person thinking I am trying to hurry them up by tapping or watching a clock.

• Ask questions. Most people LOVE to give their two cents worth. For example, “What do you think of the neighbour’s new car? You like it? Cool. What do you like? The colour, the shape, the motor? Yeah it sounds hectic.” A person with only a ‘Yes’ response is able to engage in this conversation, if offered the opportunity.

• Set the person with a communication impairment up in a space where they can grab your attention to comment on things.

• Pay attention to residents who enjoy each other’s company and find opportunities for them to hang out.

o TIP: Help the residents greet each other and communicate if this is required.


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