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Are We Listening to Words or Behaviours?

Do disability service providers try hard enough when getting feedback?

I’m suggesting more creative thinking is needed when communicating with individuals who are non-verbal or communicate in different ways.

I recently formed this view after a friend asked my opinion on how VALID’s Having a Say Conference went this year (a conference for people with disabilities within Australia).

I know it’s just a feeling, and traditionally we rely on evaluation forms being completed for evidence, but I personally felt that the conference had a real positive energy.

Service providers need to think “outside the box” when capturing feedback from those they are supporting who communicate in alternative ways.

We know that a person’s behavior can be a key element in communication, but let’s not just focus on “Behaviours of Concern”- there are other behavioural aspects & indicators that can still tell us a lot.

Like many of us, people who communicate in alternative ways often have a key person in their life that really has a sense of what’s going on and how they’re feeling.

Are we talking with these people?

What about the different types of communication aids that are used such as Comprehensive Expressive, Targeted Expressive & Visual Supports (see Scope for more details)?

I’m going to back off now because I’m sounding a bit academic and I fully respect there are gurus out there that all over this.

I’m just putting it out there to those service providers who may need to tweak their approach when getting real feedback from the people that they support.


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  1. Well said – perhaps you’re films are a stronger representation of what people think about the conference.
    In a world where we support many people- some who do not use or understand speech – there is unsettling bias to only listening to communication on the speech/text continuum. Let’s push that boundary away!

  2. Bob Bowen Bob Bowen

    John, I was talking with a parent in Melbourne last week, and suggested that rather than using the term nonverbal, we should use averbal when describing the communication methodologies of people who are neuroatypical. For those of us who are neurotypical, when the word nonverbal is used, there is a subconscious filtering mechanism set up within our brains that screen out any communication that is nonverbal.

    I am working with a behavioural consultant in Victoria to gather baseline data on an individual, and suggested using the video features on all the smart phones staff use to talk about the day, with the individual served in the video. In that we we can analyse the body language and facial expressions of individuals served to determine the level of agreement or disagreement with the statements of the staff. This is part of a larger storytelling methodology I use when conducting behavioural assessments.

    The word averbal is jarring, it is not consistent with currently accepted language to describe service recipients. That is exactly why it should be used! We need to get ourselves out of the rut, so to speak, and look at the phrase behaviour as communication in a new light.

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