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Blog #6: Let's Talk Communication

Updated: Jul 1


Communication is inter-woven into our everyday lives. Can you relate to the boy in the picture? How many times have you talked and talked--and talked--and still, nobody seems to hear you? That's the heart of communication; you have an idea, emotion, or reaction to share and you want someone to listen! But, if you have learning disabilities or dyslexia sometimes those messages get garbled or easily misunderstood. This episode digs deep into the communication process. We look at the different types of communication (verbal, non-verbal, visual, and auditory), along with scenarios illustrating how LD and dyslexia can shape and influence communication. Tips and tricks emphasize effective non-verbal communication, making conversation, and increasing your collaboration skills. Let's make communication work for you--and not against you.....


Definition and Benefits of Communication:

DEFINITION: Here's two different definitions of communication: a) "sending or receiving information" (Oxford Language Dictionary, 2021) and b) "[a] two-way exchange of of information by writing, speech, gestures, body language [or] facial expressions" (Your Dictionary.com, 2021). To boil it down, communication is how we relate to others in literally hundreds of ways in our everyday life.

Part of understanding the communication process is also learning about the common hurdles to day-to-day communication. They include, but are not limited to: excessive stimuli or external noise; cultural or racial messages; emotions (too much or too little); unnecessary jargon; too much or too little information; confusing non-verbals; mis-understanding feedback; or differing agendas.



BENEFITS: These are some of the many benefits of effective communication: a) builds trust and empathy; b) strengthens relationships; c) prevents or resolves problems; d) encourages innovative thinking; e) gives clarity and direction; and f) makes you more confident and ready to socialize with others.

It's important to also be aware of the downside of inadequate communication. Not communicating effectively can lead to: poor performance at work or school; friction, frustration, and misunderstandings with others; isolation and loneliness; problems at home or with family, friends, children and significant others; and the potential for mental health issues (i.e., severe anxiety, depression, and possible chemical dependency).


HOW DOES LD/DYSLEXIA SHAPE COMMUNICATION?

While many people with learning disabilities and dyslexia frequently experience communication problems as part of their disabilities, this is an area that rarely, if ever, is explored further. It can be a critical component to your LD because language and cognition go hand-in-hand. For instance, individuals with these issues frequently have communication difficulties as well: auditory memory problems, an auditory processing disorder, receptive language issues, short or long term memory problems, traumatic brain damage, or non-verbal learning disabilities. Dyslexia can also be problematic, as issues decoding sounds and words may impede effective communication. See the scenarios below.


*NOTE: Please be aware that there isn't space in this blog to cover the variety of Speech and Language disorders that can occur simultaneously with LD or dyslexia. Examples of specific speech problems are: aphasia, articulation problems, fluency or voice issues, hearing disabilities, or non-verbal learning disabilities. We will also not discuss people with LD or dyslexia who have English as a Second Language. Check out the Reference section for material in these and other areas related to language disorders.

Scenarios:

Here's some scenarios that illustrate the difficulties people with LD or dyslexia face in terms of communication:

  • Xavier has auditory memory problems. He can easily get frustrated when his whole family gets together. Often there may be 10-20 people talking all at once around him and he has problems following what is being said. For instance, his aunt may be talking about her daughter's first pregnancy, while a cousin is making plans for Thanksgiving, and his brother is passing around pictures of his new motorcycle. Xavier feels like a fool when someone asks him a question and he can't answer right away.

  • Alicia is discouraged about staying in college. Due to her word retrieval and receptive language difficulties, she often has problems when called upon in class. Her economics professor is especially bad about this, because he wants everyone to answer at least one question during his lectures. When it's Alicia's turn, she often freezes or stammers because she can't gather her thoughts quickly. She knows everyone is staring at her and thinking, "She's so stupid! Why doesn't she just drop the class?"

  • Simone has always been shy, but it is worse since she got her new job. Everyone in her office has known each other for years. They all have lots of stories to tell and jokes to share--which is where Simone runs into problems. Due to her non-verbal learning disability, she sees things in a very literal way, which often makes other people's humor a mystery to her. When she was a child, her family had to explain jokes to her more than once; sometimes she would get a "knock-knock" joke days later. Now, she feels even more uncomfortable and isolated from her new peers than ever.


TIPS AND TRICKS:

Tip #1: Learn to Read Non-Verbals



Trick #1: Often, non-verbal communication is strong--or even stronger--than verbal communication. For instance, have you ever asked a friend or spouse if you need to lose 10 pounds? Their words tell you, "Of course not!". But, their eyes and facial expression say, "Time to look at Weight Watchers again....." Or, if you've ever seen a mother or father lovingly rock a child to sleep, you know by their non-verbals how special that infant is to them.

Speechless Videos: Turn off the sound of a TV program, movie, or youtube video. Pick 2 characters and watch their body language. Look at their faces and mouths. What do you think they are saying? Why? Now turn the sound back on and replay the video to check and see if you were accurate.

Trick #2: Gestures List: A variation of Gestures List is to ask the adult to keep a brief, personal record on a notecard or smartphone where s/he records all of his/her non-verbal expressions in any random 10-15 minute time period. (This can be done at home, at school, at work, etc.). Or, the adult can sit unobtrusively in a mall, restaurant, work break room, college commons area, or other community-gathering place and watch others for 10-15 minutes. Again, record all of the nonverbal actions, facial expressions and gestures that are observed. Then, bring the results back to a family member or a friend and talk about what you've observed.

Tip #2: Making Conversation


Trick #3: Unique Compliments: This is one of my very favorite activities that ALWAYS will bring a smile to your face! For this activity, you will need a partner; maybe a friend, a family member, a co-worker, or someone else you trust.

First, take explain to your partner briefly what you're going to do--or have them read this blog. Second, each person should take about two minutes to write down or think up two different, unique compliments for your partner. (That means you will get 2 new compliments and your partner will get 2 new compliments.) Don’t go for the obvious (i.e., “I like your shirt” or “You’re really funny”). Instead, look for something that that person may never heard or thought of before (i.e., “Nobody listens as well as you”; “You have such kind eyes”; “You always make me think when you answer questions in class”; or “I like how you really care about your friends”). Exchange both compliments and talk further about them if you wish. *Hint: If you are having trouble coming up with 2 compliments, try exchanging one first with your partner and discuss it. Then come up with a second compliment. This will get easier as you do it, so maybe come back with another compliment on another day--or try this with someone else to really make you feel great.


Tip #3: Try Collaboration




Trick #4: Group Juggling: To prepare for this activity, you will need 10 – 15 soft objects of various sizes, weight, and shapes. Examples could be: nerf balls, koosh balls, stuffed toys, a beach ball, tape balls, tennis balls, and so forth. Ask everyone to stand in a circle facing each other. The goal of the activity is for each person to throw objects around the circle without dropping any of them. In this activity, you will be part of the group, so start by throwing the object to someone else while saying his/her name. That person throws the object to someone else in the same manner. You do this until everyone has had a turn. Now, add another object to the circle and do the same thing again. (If you drop an object or someone misses it, just keep going.) Keep adding objects until you have used each one. One variation is to reverse direction with the objects. Another is to use smaller, more difficult to catch objects. For adults with fine motor or eye-hand coordination problems, you may want to use less objects, have adults catch objects as a pair, or larger, easy to grasp objects. Whatever you do, keep track of the number of objects you can keep in the air at one time. (Laughing and giggling is definately part of this activity!)



Trick #5: Coat of Arms: This is a fun activity to try with another person--especially a family member, a close friend, or a member of a fellow organization. It can also be done with a small group of your peers, co-workers, or extended family. Here's the directions:

  1. Download the blank Coat of Arms found below.

  2. Pass it around for everyone to see and fill in each area of the shield together. For instance, write in a few words, a phrase, or draw a small picture in area 1 that shows an important event that your group wants to remember (a family reunion, a work picnic, a special trip, etc.).

  3. Write or show a characteristic that describes your group in area 2 (a lion for courage, a heart to show love, a smiley face if you like to laugh, etc.).

  4. Choose a simple symbol to put in area 3 that summarizes your group (example: a golf club if you all are golf nuts, a diver if you are part of a swim team, a light bulb if you work with a creative group at work, a book if you are part of a college study group, etc.).

  5. Put a phrase or symbol in Area 4 to show something that you all are good at. For example, maybe you're a group of friends who all love to cook and share recipes; put a cookbook or picture of food in that space.

  6. Write or show something in Area 5 that symbolizes your mission as a group. For instance, if you're a member of a cooking class, put a knife and fork. If you all believe strongly in Climate Change, put in a picture of a hurricane or an endangered animal.

When you're finished filling in all five areas, put your new Coat of Arms on social media or share it with others outside of your group. You can always update it whenever you wish for new group members or to show how you've grown and changed.


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Resources:

  • While this brief article is really written for teachers, it is a great summary of how to communicate effectively with individuals with LD and dyslexia. Brown and Ford (2007) give you lots of great, practical tips in this area. See References below for the link.

  • Another set of materials focus on living with partners or family members with dyslexia. These materials do touch on communication issues, but then they expand the topic to lots of useful insights and ideas that encompass the whole individual. This stuff can really open your eyes to what dyslexia and LD mean--or, reinforce what you already know, but want to share with someone else. Here's two links to get you started: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/20-things-remember-you-love-person-with-dyslexia.html and https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/advice/adults/living-with-a-dyslexic-partner . You can also google the term: "living with a dyslexic partner".



References:


TRANSITION CONNECTION:

Life Pictures: Start by asking the adult or group members to use colors, shapes, signs, or symbols written on paper to express personal feelings and reactions about a specific time period. For instance, they could illustrate a birthday, a particular holiday, their marriage day, a birth of a child, a special trip, one average day or month, or one year in their life. Have lots of art materials and blank paper available so the adult(s) can be as creative as possible. If the adult with LD is working one-to-one with you, ask him/her to share the finished product with you explaining each part and its personal significance. (If the group members are comfortable with each other, you can ask them to share their work with others.) A variation to this activity is having the adult illustrate a few days or more in sequence on an I-Pad, a cell phone, or a small notebook that s/he carries with him/her. Again, the point of this activity is not to use words, but anything that symbolizes the meaning for this individual. Don’t be surprised if the adult wants to keep the finished product as a memento of a special time in his/her life.



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