Over the past few years, as the eastern region communication access network speech pathologist, I have been fortunate in working with an adult service provider to support their staff to become communication coordinators. The coordinators came from 5 separate services who all cater for different client groups. They received training over a 12 month period in a variety of areas and have been quietly championing communication methods, advising other staff and planning for optimum communication for their clients.
One of the services supports young people who are transitioning from school to work. These young people are learning what adult life is like: both adult responsibilities and adult rights. They are developing basic social skills that are necessary for any workplace. They are learning to meet and greet people who come to their service, they are learning to answer the phone. They conduct meetings each morning with their peers to decide what will happen each day. They have jobs to do: maintain the building and surrounds, keep the kitchen clean, put work materials away, keep paths swept, blinds opened in the morning and drawn before they leave for the night. There is a strong emphasis on respect for everyone at the service (staff and clients) and the language used to remind people about manners is the same for all. These young people have autism and intellectual disability and they are discovering their skills and interests and trying to get into the work force.
Edward is a tall, slender man who doesn’t speak but understands most that is said to him. He uses an i-pad with a camera roll to start conversations. He occasionally spells out words and phrases but only to people he knows well. He likes to move and rarely stands still and has a part time job delivering advertising pamphlets for a local real estate agent. He is from an Asian background and also works for a few hours in a local Asian supermarket. Edward knows he has responsibilities in his work and he is enjoying the fact that people are relying on him and have expectations. His family say he has matured enormously during the 18 months he has been at the service. The staff at Edward’s service have expectations that he will communicate with them and with his employers.
Declan is a quiet, gentle young man who enjoys being with people. He often frowns slightly when people are talking as if he is trying to decode what is being said to him. His staff knew that he had used some sign language to communicate when he was at school. Since coming to the service, his communication has been limited and the staff asked to learn key word sign to increase their communication with them. They were taught 15 basic signs to start with which included signs for some of Declan’s favourite activities as well as some of his identified frustrations. When Declan realised the staff were talking to him with signs, he became very excited and his frown disappeared. He quickly started using the signs to tell his staff what he wanted to do and what was upsetting him. He is now a happier man and angry episodes have reduced.
The culture of equality and adult expectations at this service underpins communication rights and sets the tone for improved communication and is a wonderful way to embed the skills. There is an expectation that we all behave as if we are “at work” when we walk into the building. Standards are the same for both staff and clients and the terms used to discuss skills and behaviours apply to all. Everyone is expected to be courteous and respectful, help their peers, use appropriate language, tone of voice and negotiate politely if there are differences of opinion. I look forward to working more with the communication coordinators and the people at this service.
Bron Jones – Eastern Regional Communication Service