AAC

Learning to listen

One of the reasons this blog is called “Real Social Skills” is that the skills needed in order to listen to people with disabilities are not seen as “social skills”. 

Disabled people who communicate in unusual ways are usually seen as having a social skills problem. People who don’t understand what disabled people are saying are *not* usually seen as having a social skills problem. The disabled person is almost always blamed. It doesn’t have to be like this; it’s a problem with our culture; this is something that we can change.

Listening to other people (disabled or not) involves a lot of skills. No one is born knowing how to understand what others are communicating — we all have to learn how to listen. And we’re never done — there is always more to learn about listening and understanding other people. We should all have an expectation that learning skills for listening to people who communicate atypically is part of that. No one is too young or too old to learn to listen. 

For instance, all of these things are listening skills:

  • Understanding what someone who has a heavy CP accent is saying
  • Maintaining a conversational rhythm with someone who takes longer than most people to process or express themself
  • Having a conversation with someone who doesn’t make eye contact, and figuring out alternative ways to tell when they are and aren’t paying attention
  • Noticing when repetition is communication 
  • Understanding the indirect communication of people who can only use the limited core vocabulary words available on their communication devices
  • Giving someone who has been through intense compliance training the space they need to express their own thoughts rather than yours
  • Paying attention to what someone who speaks oddly is saying rather than writing it off as rude or cute 
  • Listening to someone who has both communicative and non-communicative speech, and figuring out which words are and aren’t intended as communication
  • Listening to someone who has both voluntary and involuntary motion, and figuring out which gestures are and aren’t communication
  • And so on.

No one is born with fully-developed listening skills. Learning to listen effectively is a lifelong process. Learning to listen to people with communication disabilities needs to be part of that.

Communicating in ASL means communicating within the Deaf community

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
I’m autistic and struggle with spoken language. I’m verbal, but my communication is often slow or I fail to express myself properly. I’ve often thought about learning sign language as a better way to communicate, but I’ve been told by several friends it would be appropriation of deaf culture as I am a hearing person. Is it okay for a autistic person to learn ASL, if only for themselves? And what’s the best way to be respectful of deaf culture while learning, if it’s appropriate at all?

Realsocialskills said:

It’s not appropriative to learn ASL, even if it’s just for your own use. It’s ok to want to find a way to communicate that works for you.

That said — it’s important to understand that ASL is a Deaf language. ASL isn’t similar to English, at all. It’s a minority language used by a minority culture that is very different from English-speaking culture.

If you came to communicate mostly in ASL, the overwhelming majority of people you’d be communicating with would be Deaf people and people who have Deaf parents. Your life and cultural reference points would become very different than they are now. You’d be assimilating into a minority culture that you’re not already part of — one that has every reason to be cautious about hearing newcomers. (Especially hearing newcomers who don’t have Deaf relatives.) That’s not impossible, but it is much easier said than done.

If you’re looking to learn a few signs that you can use with friends and family when your communication breaks down, that might be possible without changing your life too much. It’s important to understand that learning a few signs is not the same thing as learning ASL. (Just like there’s a difference between knowing a few Spanish words and knowing Spanish). 

(Also, don’t give yourself a sign name. It’s considered rude and appropriative, especially if you only know a few signs. You don’t give yourself one, Deaf people who have accepted you as integrated into the community give you one.)

If what you’re looking for is the ability to communicate more readily within the English-speaking culture you’re already part of, ASL is not likely to be very helpful. (For the same reason that no matter how much easier you find it to pronounce Spanish words, learning Spanish probably won’t help you to communicate with English speakers.)

If you’re looking to communicate more readily within English-speaking culture, English-based AAC is more likely to be helpful. If you’re comfortable with typing, a well-designed text-to-speech iPad app could make communication much, much easier. The best app I’m aware of is Proloquo4Text.  It has good text-to-speech voices, and it also makes it easy to communicate by showing people your screen. P4T also has good ways of storing phrases, and it’s highly customizable. If you find that typing doesn’t always work, you may find a symbol-based system helpful. (For instance Proloquo2go, LAMP, or Speak for Yourself.) (Good apps cost money, and they also solve a lot of communication problems that free and cheap apps don’t solve. And even the most expensive AAC app is cheaper than learning a second language).

Tl;dr ASL is a Deaf language. Communicating in ASL means communicating mostly within the Deaf community. Learning ASL probably won’t help someone with a communication disorder to communicate more readily within English-speaking culture. English-based AAC is likely to be a better solution. It’s important for people who want to learn ASL to respect it as a language and to respect the Deaf community as linguistic minority culture.

Using the memory you have

Anonymous said to :

I have memory issues. Things like names, dates or times, directions, and other important details often escape me. Lately, I’ve been using “external memory” in the form of a notebook or my phone.

However, people tend to get impatient or bored at best when you’re constantly consulting a notebook in order to tell them what you need.

At worst, they talk over me, try to tell me what they think I want, or walk away.

How do I get people to understand?

Or should I just work on fixing my memory instead?

realsocialskills said:

A few things:

Don’t wait for better memory:

  • Improving memory is possible for some people; not everyone
  • Whether or not it’s possible for you, you need to communicate now
  • Communication shouldn’t wait for cognitive changes
  • It’s important to make strategies that work with the cognitive abilities you have now

Meanwhile, you might be able to make some of your external memory faster. Here are a few possible ways of doing that:

Write things on your hand or a wrist band:

  • Looking at your hand only takes a second
  • This might work well for remembering what food you want to order, or what you want to buy
  • Or in general terms what you wanted to talk about
  • There are also disposable paper wristbands you can buy to put notes on
  • That works similarly, without having to write stuff on your hand

Put some information on your phone’s lock screen, eg:

  • Write something in your notes app
  • Take a screenshot
  • Make that screenshot your lock screen wallpaper
  • This means the information is available immediately once you get out your phone

Cheat sheets:

  • If there are things you consistently need to know but can’t remember, making pages with that information and putting them in particular places might help
  • Eg, for remembering what a store has
  • Or remembering what questions you’re likely to be asked
  • Or lists of people who are likely to be in particular places

Optimizing your notebook:

  • Eg: If there is information you need frequently, it might be worth putting it on dedicated pages with color-coded tabs
  • It also might be worth using something like a three-ring binder so that you can put information you need soonest at the front
  • Or even *on* the front, if you get a three-ring binder that has a space to put in a cover sheet on the front

Communication boards or apps:

  • Using communication boards or a picture-based AAC app might help too
  • Communication aids aren’t just for generating speech, they can also be for cognitive prompting reminding you what it’s possible to say
  • Making pages for particular situations might help you to communicate faster
  • You’d still have to open the page, but it might result in less hunting around for information once you get there
  • Having a page with a few options might make it easier to remember and process things
  • Associating images with things you’re trying to remember might make them easier to remember
  • If you keep the symbols in a consistent place and touch them some while you communicate, muscle memory might also help you to remember things
  • (Even practicing with boards in private without using an app to communicate directly might make it possible to use muscle memory to prompt yourself)
  • Proloquo2Go might work well for this
  • (Or maybe even something like Custom Boards, although that uses more childish symbols and that could be a problem)

It also might help to be more open about your memory difficulties:

  • Sometimes being open about how bad your memory is can help
  • If you don’t tell people what you’re doing, they might not be able to tell the difference between using external memory and ignoring them
  • (Especially if you’re looking at a phone; they might think you are facebooking or something)
  • They also might be trying to help, and might not realize that it’s being anti-helpful
  • If you tell people what’s going on and what would help you, *some* people will do the right thing
  • (Not all. But enough that it’s often worth it)
  • That also can allow you to ask people things that you don’t remember

Eg:

  • “I’m sorry, my memory is bad — could you remind me who you are?”
  • “Give me a second — I need to check my notebook.”
  • “I don’t remember when that’s happening — I need to check my calendar on my phone.”
  • “I actually get really confused when people try to tell me what they think I want — I’ll be able to find it faster if I check my phone”.

Also, if you’re approaching people and they’re walking away, it might help to change the order in which you do things to make it go faster from their perspective, eg:

  • Get out your notebook
  • Turn it to the right page
  • Put your finger on the piece of information you need to remember
  • Then go up to them and ask for help

tl;dr If you have memory issues and rely on external memory aids, there may be things you can do to use them more quickly.

Backup communication methods

Anonymous said to :

I find it very difficult to communicate myself verbally sometimes, to the point where I get frustrated and actually cry. It’s like, I can’t find the right words quick enough and it all comes out in jumbles. How can I improve my social skills when it comes to speaking?

realsocialskills said:

I think I’m going to write a few posts about this, because there are a lot of things that can help. But in this post, I’m going to talk about backup methods of communication:


For many people for whom speech is unreliable, having another method of communication to fall back on is gamechanging:

  • Speech isn’t the most important thing
  • Knowing that you will be able to communicate is the important thing
  • If fear and frustration is a reason that speech becomes difficult for you, knowing that you will definitely be able to communicate might in itself improve your ability to speak

Having a backup method doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time:

  • You might get stuck at one point in a conversation, type a bit, then resume speaking

Some possible backups:


Pen and paper:

  • If handwriting is reliable for you, it might help to carry around a pen and paper
  • That can allow you to write instead of speaking
  • Or to write a few words to unstick yourself
  • The advantages of this is that it’s cheap, low-tech, and readily available
  • (And most people have used paper to pass notes in a situation where they didn’t want to speak, eg: in a class, so it might not even look that odd)
  • You can also use this to draw diagrams or drawings illustrating a point. (even if it’s not a point that’s usually illustrated that way.) Having a non-words-based way of explaining things can help a lot.

An iPad (even without any special apps):

  • If you have an iPad, it might be worth making a point of carrying it with you all the time
  • You can take an iPad out relatively quickly and type on it just in the Notes app
  • (I do this)
  • You can even do text-to-speech this way. If you go to the general settings, then accessibility options, you can turn on text to speech. There are voices for a lot of languages; not just English.

You can also use iPads, paper, and computers as a stealth form of communication support:

  • If you pretend you’re taking notes, people generally won’t question it
  • You can then type out many of your responses before you say them
  • That can separate the process of figuring out what to say from the physical act of saying it
  • That can make speech far more possible for some people
  • (I do this more or less constantly in classes, seminars, discussion groups and certain kinds of meetings).

An iPad with decided communication apps:

  • There are a lot of dedicated communication apps for iPads (most of the good ones are expensive).
  • If part of your problem is that you lose words or forget the kinds of things that it’s possible to say, a communication app might help
  • Proloquo2Go has a lot of flexibility and good symbol support. If you have trouble with words and need symbols to remind you, it might be  a good option. 
  • You can make dedicated pages for situation in which you tend to have trouble communicating.
  • Making the pages also might in itself help you to map out things you can say in various situations, even if you aren’t able to use them directly.
  • Speak4Yourself isn’t very flexible at all, but it has icons arranged in a way that’s well thought-out. It’s designed to work with muscle memory, having the words in the same place all the time so that your hands remember where you are. If you sometimes need help even with simple words and don’t need specialized pages, it might be a very cognitively user-friendly option.
  • Proloquo4Text is a text-based AAC app. It can store phrases in categories to access quickly, and has very high-quality word prediction. You can also make the display text very large if you’d rather show your screen than use a computer voice.

tl;dr If you have trouble with speech and get overloaded, it’s a good idea to have a backup communication method. Scroll up for some concrete suggestions.


Anyone else want to weigh in? What helps you when you get overwhelmed and can’t find the words?

I was conditioned from a really young age to be passive and go along with whatever was happening (mostly because of my dad’s temper. He was never abusive but he was very angry and it was never worth the battle to disagree with him), so now everytime i get into a disagreement or heated discussion with someone I end up crying and choking up to the point that I can’t get a sentence out. Do you have any advice for being able to argue inspite of this?
realsocialskills said:
 
A few suggestions:
 
It might help to communicate more slowly when things aren’t urgent. For instance:
  • Some conversations might be possible for you to have over email, but not in person
  • It’s ok to say “let’s move this conversation to email so I can figure out what I think without melting down”
  • It’s also ok to need to pause the conversation from time to time
  • Needing the conversation to be over for a while doesn’t mean you’ve conceded the point
  • Some things are urgent, but a lot of conversations can be slowed down

Learn to use the word “maybe”:

  • It’s ok not to know what you want
  • It’s ok not to know whether you’re ok with something
  • It’s ok to need time to figure it out
  • “Maybe” is an important word, you don’t always have to say yes or no immediately

It might help not to rely so much on your voice:

  • A lot of people who can’t get words out for various reasons can still type
  • You might find that typing is more reliable than speech for you when a conversation gets emotionally intense
  • An iPad can be really useful for this since it is very portable
  • You can use a text-to-speech app (Verbally is a free one, Proloquo4Text is a dramatically better but also more expensive one),
  • Or you can even type in Notes and show the screen to the person you’re talking to
  • Or sometimes typing the thing first can make it possible to say the thing with your voice.

It might help to make less eye contact:

  • If you’re intimidated, looking at someone’s face can make matters worse
  • If you aren’t looking at their face, it might be easier to think and speak
Do any of y'all have suggestions for things that help with this?