So often being a person with a communication disorder, or seeing your loved one experience a communication disorder, can make one feel powerless – like there is just nothing that can make this uphill battle any easier. Whether you’ve had a stroke, a TBI, a mild concussion, are experiencing dementia, or have lived your entire life with a learning disorder, communication is a frustrating struggle.
When the times get tough though, know that there are many things you can do to get yourself or your loved one on the road to improvement.
Individualized, evidence-based therapy is of course a must, whether you do that with or without a clinician. However often the result from therapy take time to see – and we as human beings want the immediate fix. So what can we do? Make some simple environmental modifications and compensations to make communication just a little easier – you may be surprised by just how quickly many of these work!
8 Ways to Change Your Environment to Make Communication Easier
- Turn off the TV. Pick up that remote control and hit the "off" button – no, not just the mute button. Often, persons with communication disorders have great difficulty separating out what to listen to or look at to absorb communication info. The struggle of focusing in on understanding is already difficult enough – add any attention difficulties that often go hand in hand with communication disorders and you’ve really got a tough situation.
- Pick a quiet restaurant. Sometimes restaurants will even have a quiet back room. Social situations like going out to eat can be extremely difficult for someone with a communication disorder, so by choosing somewhere relatively quiet, you are making it at least a little easier.
- Keep groups small. When there are multiple voices and multiple people’s facial expressions and gestures to watch, and keep track of, communication is harder. By keeping groups smaller (say 2-3 people), you will be able to make things a bit easier for our loved one.
- Have pictures on hand. These pictures can act as cues to help your loved one think of the word they want, or even allow them to just point, or allow you to make sure that your loved one knows what you’re trying to say. Some people like to have Google Images up at all times, so that they can simply pull out their smart phone and utilize that as a bridge to communication.
- Offer pen and paper. For some with communication disorders, writing and reading may be easier than communicating verbally. If that’s the case for your loved one, think about carrying a small notebook and a pen that can be slipped in and out of a pocket or a purse. Some folks prefer small whiteboards, or the notes app on their smart phones.
- Face your communication partner. This is a quick and easy one. If you’re in the car, with both people facing forward, this might not be the best time to chat as you won’t be able to turn towards your loved one in order to give them the facial expressions, lip movement, and other gestural feedback that helps to augment verbal communication. Try waiting until you can sit or stand across from each other.
- Skip the phone – try a video chat instead. For people with communication disorders, communication solely over the phone can be VERY hard. That takes away any gestures or facial expressions that might help improve their understanding of your message. Next time, give Skype or FaceTime a try to include that visual component of communication.
- Choose the right location for the right conversation. If you’re going to have a conversation that you want to make SURE your loved one will understand, set them up for success. Have the conversation in a quiet room, with both parties facing each other. Make sure they are comfortable so there are no distractions like a squeaky or unstable chair. Find a spot where the person feels confident and comfortable emotionally – any time someone with a communication disorder tries to use language, the situation will inherently be emotionally charged because of the many frustrations. These emotions can be distracting – think of the last time you had to talk to your boss about a sticky situation and were so nervous or frustrated that you couldn’t find your words. By picking a place where your loved one feels safe, you take away at least some of the negative emotion behind communication.
Whatever you do, remember that there ARE options out there for you to help your loved one on the road to improvement, whether that improvement is more short-long term via individualized, evidence-based therapy, or whether it’s immediate by makings sure that the environment best supports their communication.