The society we belong to shapes our lives and, most importantly, determines our communication: the meanings attached to words, objects, and issues surrounding our lives. The reverse is the case for people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). It is time we started according respect and noticeable considerations to this group of people, as their disabilities might limit their ability to cope and understand the ambiguous meanings attached to objects and issues in a society which usually makes them feel isolated, frustrated, and rejected.
This article seeks to suggest ways our society, parents, and teachers can reduce behaviors of concern among the SEND community. The goal is to develop a good sense of communication and shared meanings attached to words, objects, and issues in society.
The relevance of shared meaning in every society cannot be overemphasized because of its impacts on social solidarity and cohesion. It is undeniably painful when some group of people, due to their disabilities and cognitive level, are isolated from society through the use of ambiguous communication and unclear meanings attached to objects, gestures, issues, and relationships.
Imagine how frustrating it would be living in a city where you could not understand what others are saying and at the same time not be heard? The same thing happens to people with SEND. Many a time, we tend to ignore their need to interact and understand us when we communicate with them, as our societal meanings and communications might be too ambiguous for them to understand. It is important for us to break our communication down to a level that will accommodate their needs.
Similarly, in recent times, special education schools, colleges, and speech and language therapists around the world are trying their best to support people with SEND in communicating their needs and interacting with the world around them. However, there is still need for more support from society as these children and people are just as much a part of it.
If we truly love and accept them as parts of us, we should inculcate their communication level while interacting with them outside the walls of their homes and schools. Doing this will enable them to develop some sense of belonging, connection, and integration into their society. Imagine someone with SEND being communicated to in the same way he/she is communicated to at home or school while in the broader community. The person in question will feel loved, accepted, included, and attached to his/her society because he/she understands a shared meaning.
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Fundamental strategies for positive communications with SEND
Most anxieties are functional. This does not necessarily mean the individual knows he/she is passing a message to us, but we must interpret these individuals’ behavior/anxiety as his/her voice and work out what it is communicating to us. Some of the functions of anxiety may be immediate expressions of poor wellbeing, telling us he/she is hungry, in pain, or uncomfortable; some behaviors may convey a desire to have needs met, such as wanting to go somewhere else or wanting to do a different activity; and some may be an expression of emotion like feelings of sadness or, conversely, extreme happiness.
Other anxieties may be more difficult for us to understand, such as those usually referred to as stereotypical behaviors and which may have a sensory function. However, when communication is simplified in a way that accommodates people with SEND, it helps in reducing anxiety and makes it easier to communicate their needs rather than display behaviors of concern. Therefore, it is imperative to be sensitive to his/her moods before initiating interaction or communicating with him/her.
Similarly, visual aids in this context are items that can be used to illustrate matter, such as objects, photos, symbols, and text intended to supplement spoken information so it can be understood more easily by people with SEND. Most times, visual aids are appropriate for the majority of people with SEND as they help them focus, aid understanding, support structure, prevent frustration leading to anxiety, help with expectations, assist with becoming familiar with routines, and promote independence and autonomy.
Moreover, it is incandescently important to identify the individual’s preferred visual aids before communicating with the individual. This can be found in their individual plan or behavior support plan. Some can be good with photos while others might prefer to use symbols. Therefore, it is advisable that before any communication, the preferred visual aids of the audience should be considered.
Consequently, some SEND people often display some sort of anxiety which may put them and those around them at risk. These behaviors can deter them from socialising with other people in the society due to the fear of putting other people at risk. Sometimes, people stigmatize them as destructive and dangerous. Appropriate and inclusive communication strategies will reduce anxiety and ambiguity, which will in turn reduce behaviors of concern. Also, people should not display fear or be scared when interacting with special needs individuals, as they are very sensitive and may be quick to interpret that kind of body language. It is important for anyone interacting with them to be friendly and calm.
People with SEND need to be given some time to process the information given to them. That information needs to be simple, clear, and straight to the point. We should avoid overloading them with information as this may cause more harm than good. Also, it is essential to check their understanding of the information given to them. This can be done by being sensitive to their body language and looking for signs that indicate they understand the information depending on individual communication styles. When all these are accomplished, there will be a great reduction in anxieties and more opportunities to socialize and interact with the world at large.
Moreover, our society needs to develop a structure people with SEND will understand. For example, our media companies, especially television stations, should encourage sign language, as this will reach an audience of people who use sign language as their main form of communication and are not usually represented. Also, there should be universal and accepted symbols that show direction in public places.
I strongly advise parents, guardians, and special needs schools/colleges to introduce activities that can enhance and support effective communication of people with SEND. One of these activities should include societal awareness, which enables people with SEND to gain access to a range of different cultural, musical, and socialization processes. This can be achieved through multi-sensory methods and can offer real life experience. For example, exploring different cultural costumes, tasting different cultural foods, or being educated on shared cultural beliefs can help them to interact and communicate in society according to their individual cognitive levels.
Inclusive communication can also enable them to embrace and appreciate diversity and contribute to positive interactions while communicating with people from different ethnic backgrounds, especially in contemporary ethnically and socially diverse societies. In conclusion, it is imperative to note that inclusive communication will enable people with SEND to respond to their environment and gain greater awareness of the world around them, which can in turn enhance life styles and social and creative development.
This article was featured in Issue 116 – Enhancing Communication Skills