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4 Things Not to Do When Interacting With Someone Who Uses a Communication Device

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If you haven’t spent time with someone who uses a communication device, it can be tricky to know how to act or what to say. To better understand how to interact with someone who is nonverbal, The Mighty decided to turn to the people who speak through devices. We asked our readers on Facebook to learn what they wish people wouldn’t say or do during conversations.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Don’t be impatient.

Using an app, typing out a response on a letter board or communicating through another type of equipment can take longer than responding to something out loud, but just like in verbal conversations, no one likes to be interrupted. “My son is learning to use a device now. His speech is a bit unclear, and it takes him a while to respond and get his mouth in gear,” Kirri-lee Ghergori wrote on Facebook. “I wish people would be a tiny bit more patient and give him a chance to reply and try to actually interpret that reply instead of jumping in and interrupting him.”

People should slow down and start listening when they engage him,” Ann Weiss, whose son uses an iPad to communicate, wrote on Facebook. “He will answer your question — he just needs more time than most.”

2. Don’t assume someone who communicates through a device isn’t intelligent.

Just because someone isn’t able to vocalize a thought or opinion doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say. “When people ask me things, I know exactly what I want to say, but there is an ever-present blockade between my brain and my mouth,” Henry Lobough, who has nonverbal autism and communicates with a letter board, wrote in his piece, “Yes, I’m Nonverbal. But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Unintelligent.” “It is extremely frustrating.”

“My sister is a Ph.D. candidate. I wish people didn’t speak loudly to her (like it helps) or talk to her like a child,” Sara Rackensperger Dennison, whose sister has cerebral palsy and uses a communication device, wrote on Facebook. “She has a disability, but she’s probably twice as smart as most people.”

3. Don’t speak to someone through his or her parent or caregiver.

Someone using a device may not be able to speak verbally, but that doesn’t mean he or she can’t understand and respond to what you’re saying. Give this person the chance to speak for his or herself instead of speaking to the person they’re with.

People will talk to me about [my son] in front of him as if he was not there,” Amy Allnutt wrote in her post, “The Simple Word That Can Make My Nonverbal Son’s Day.” “He hears everything. Talk to him or just say ‘hi.’ This simple gesture can really make our day.”

4. Don’t avoid someone entirely because he or she communicates differently.

It might seem intimidating at first, but approaching and starting a conversation with someone who uses a communication device can go a long way. After a few minutes, you may realize they aren’t so different after all.

“Most days, ‘special needs’ appears to mean ‘ignore.’ Really, it just means ‘unique,’” Allnutt wrote. “Seriously, if you take one minute to introduce yourself to someone different from you, you’ll leave that conversation a better person.”

Originally published: April 22, 2015
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