Help and Tips

How to improve communication in a group home environment – Part 3

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. In Part 1 , Sarah covered some of communication basics you can introduce into your group homes. Part 2 looked at how to create opportunities and expectations for people with disability to communicate. In this final article on communication, Sarah gives some simple tips that can help in any situation and are easy to adopt.

People with disability can always tell when you are faking your interest or communication style. Find a version of you which really works with the people you support. When people have significant communication impairments, communicating with you or anyone else is hard work. You have to make it worth the person’s time and energy to communicate with you. You need to be genuine in your interactions or the person won’t give you the time of day.

Make links in your local community A person with the significant communication impairment is part of the community; they just need help to get out there. Lots of people in the community don’t know how to interact with a person with significant physical and/or communication difficulty. Many people then just avoid it, for fear of getting it wrong. As support people, we can show the community how to be successful communicators with the people we support. These tips are a great starting point:

• Go to the same local places at the same times

o TIP: Humans are creatures of habit. We buy coffee at the same place every morning, get our groceries on the same day of the week, walk our pets at the same time. Helping create these routines with people we support create genuine, everyday connections in the community. Don’t underestimate the positive impact of a daily smile and wave to the neighbor walking the dog.

• Gently instruct people in the community to speak directly to the person with the communication impairment/disability.

o TIP: Ensure the person with the communication impairment is in front and facing other people.

o TIP: Use gesture and facial expressions to indicate others should talk directly to the person you support.

o TIP: Inform the community how to best communicate with the person you support. For example, you could say: “Sarina can understand what you say. She can answer with her communication device. It just takes a little bit of time to formulate her message.” Community members are usually grateful to be told what to do. They don’t want to be rude, but don’t know what is right, so may avoid any interaction at all.

Relationships matter Most of your ability to help someone is based on their perception of a positive relationship with you. The rest is what you know how to do. Therefore, it is essential that you work on a relationship of trust and mutual respect with any person with disability you support.

Remember, if you have been working with a person with significant communication impairment for a while, you probably know their personality, preferences and their personal communication methods really well. Be confident in what you know and share it with others, so that the individual gets the richest life possible.

Go on, have a cuppa and a good chat together - everyone will feel better for it.


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