social skills for medical professionals

Document communication

This post may not apply to all of you, but I know a lot of you work with people whose communication is impaired, so:

I’ve come to believe that if others are reporting that someone has no communication, it is important for others responsible for their care to do everything in their power to counteract this.

Being perceived as noncommunicating is dangerous. It can prevent someone from ever being listened to. It can also lead ableists to withhold medically necessary care because they believe that person’s life is not worth living. 

You can’t reliably assess someone’s receptive communication unless they have expressive communication that you can understand (and even then, it’s difficult). Being unable to respond is not the same as having no understanding, and it’s wrong to assume that people don’t understand. So, really, no living person should ever be described as having no communication. That may not be in your power to fix, but keeping it in mind will help you to treat people better.

Beyond that, most people who are described as having no expressive communication actually do. Don’t be led astray by someone else saying that someone is “noncommunicative” or “nonverbal”. Unless the person they’re talking about is in a coma, they’re probably wrong. If you look for communication, you will be able to listen to them better, and also better able to protect them by documenting their communication. So look for it, and document it, and tell other people who care for them. Their life may depend on it, and the way they’re treated almost certainly does.

Some specific things you can look for:

  • Do they turn their head when you come in?
  • Flap their hands when they’re angry or happy?
  • Vocalize?
  • Say words that may or may not be communicative? 
  • Try to get out of their chair?
  • Sing?
  • Become more calm or agitated when you speak to them?
  • Make eye contact?
  • Say numbers?
  • (There are any number of other things)

Everyone with voluntary control over any part of their body communicates. If you’re working with someone, learn their communication and do what you can to make it known that their communication exists and matters.