Objective: Better understand the necessity of being able to fully communicate.
Frequently in special education the focus of communication is wants and needs. I believe the reason for this stems from Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs:
The bottom of this (physiological) is all about basic needs we need to live and survive. As we move up the hierarchy wants are added in, but then look at it and really all of them are needs and wants. To obtain anything beyond the bottom slot (physiological) one needs complex communication beyond “I want_______” or “I need___________.”
Right now I am writing to you. The satisfaction of being able to convey my knowledge and opinions is a big deal even if no one reads this (we take this ability for granted). In these few sentences, so far, I have conveyed more with words than many individuals with disabilities are able to do in their entire life-as I see it, largely because they are never given the opportunity to for one reason or another.
We build relationships, meaning, and achievement in life by expressing our thoughts, knowledge, reasoning, opinions, experiences, and ability to start and end a conversation. I believe this ability is crucial for an individual to develop in a health way mentally, socially, emotionally and even physically (since all are connected). Let’s take a look at this:
The point of a communication system is to allow an individual to have (1) conversations, (2) participate at home, school, or work in recreational activities, (3) establish and maintain social roles (friend, son/daughter, brother/sister, student), and (4) meet personal needs (Beukelman & Mirenda, p. 15).
(1)Conversation: Conversation is important for a number of reasons. We need it for greetings, small talk, storytelling, information transfer/ procedural descriptions, and ending a conversation (Beukelman & Mirenda, p. 18-21)
Greetings: Greetings allow us to associate with many people. This is the beginning of a friendship and the beginning of a conversation. We need greetings to develop relationships as well as to connect with others to get things accomplished. Without greetings a lot of our progress would be stopped and some friendships or associations would never take shape.
Small talk: As trivial as we may find this, small talk leads to deeper relationships and allows us to have associations. We come to know people better through small talk. Small talk is often a good social skill that can lead to sharing interest. This can lead to a friendship or collaborating to reach a common goal in life.
Storytelling: Imagine a good friendship without telling stories. Stories lead to laughter. They strengthen bonds and bring deeper meaning to a relationship. Stories lead to other stories. Good friends tell stories (We, of course, are not just talking about fiction. We are talking about conveying an experience or joke, etc.).
Information transfer/procedural descriptions: Conveying knowledge or teaching someone can lead to improved self-esteem. This is used to help us serve others (or annoy them with our know it all knowledge J ). We need this to work and to accomplish goals or task.
End Conversation: Our ability to end a conversation sometimes sets up the next conversation. It is also important because in our culture we feel weird if we don’t. If someone can’t close a conversation, but keeps going and going, this can also strain relationships.
Conversation is important for healthy relationships and self-esteem. It is important for us to progress and reach our goals in life. It is important for us in receiving an education and becoming something. A life is not complete unless conversations can be held and each of these components reached. The more of these components an individual is able to use the better the quality of life. It is clear we need the ability to communicate beyond wants and needs. We need the ability to communicate in all locations we are in with a variety of people.
(2) Participate: Needless to say, if we don’t participate in activities, many of lives pleasures and happiness are missed. The vocabulary we use at home, school or work may be different. Our interactions may be different in a variety of locations. This is one reason why working on communication and education has to take place at home and at school.
(3) Establish and Maintain Social Roles: Our social roles are important to our identity and purpose in life. Communication aides in this aspect of our life. Self-esteem is connected to this.
(4) Needs: We all have needs and struggle to learn when our needs are not met. Being able to ask for things we need is very helpful for use to feel comfortable and happy in life.
It is true that the words we use are only a part of communication. Many, if not all, of the areas mentioned above require more than just words, but words are essential for our progress and success in life. Suppose you only had 5 pictures of things you needed or wanted. What would life be like? Think of the friendships and associations you have. If you only had those 5 pictures would you be able to have them? How would you compensate? How would you feel about yourself? Would you feel hopeless? What would you desire most? Many individuals with disabilities have grown up with these things lacking. They have impressively learned to manage life in some degree without them. I believe, it is their right to have them. I believe it is our responsibility to do all within our power to allow individuals who do not have the ability to talk and interact as we can, to be able to do what we can. Once an individual can communicate his/her thoughts, reasoning, opinions, knowledge, desires, goals, stories, etc. then other things began to take shape and fall into place. Suddenly all those hard and boring skills can have meaning. Suddenly there is a reason to work, a reason to behave, a reason to dream and hope. Suddenly there is light in life.
There is no reasonable excuse to deprive a population of individuals, regardless of believed cognitive functioning, the right and ability to communicate. A top priority should be for an individual to be a competent communicator.
Beukelman, D.R., & Mirenda, P. (2005), Augmentative and alternative communication, Paul Brookes Publishing
Lenae Crandall 2013