Communication in the digital age is less verbal and more like swipe, text, send. Whoops! Did I mean that? We’re connecting faster and more frequently and yet... are we? Forming connections, bonds, and emotional intelligence is not as complicated as it may sound and yet as technology is on the rise, one to one, deeper connectivity is on the decline. But we know a few things: 1) Our well being depends on deep meaningful interactions. 2) "Connectedness" takes time and is a whole body experience. 3) It cannot be programmed. 4) Those with Special Needs, sensory integration challenges and neuro-diversity can become great communicators. Let's take a look at how to improve communication and how we can connect deeply with more meaning and integrity. Our first stop: a multisensory room where connectivity is key and which can help to support individuals with specific communication needs.
Start with Touch
Our first experience with our world is through touch. A mother’s touch and its impact is significant. We then begin our own exploration through our own sense of touch. At around 4 months of age, the palmar grasp reflex integrates and our hands become our primary means of exploration. And it is with this sense of touch and the thousands of neurons located in our fingers that we begin to communicate. We learn soft, hard, sticky, wet, dry, cold, hot, bumpy, gentle, rough, and so on. For those with differing sensory needs, providing soothing, yet interactive touch response tools can awaken them to the world around. Offer textures that can be placed on a lap, wall, or floor for easy access. Encourage the individual to describe what they are feeling. What is the impact of touching?
The Sounds of Silence and Music
Our sense of hearing enables us to process auditory information. Sounds can be noisy, uplifting, deep, soothing, synthesized, digital, and stimulating. Using classical music has been known to provide an awakening sensory diet, as can be certain keys of music used to provide a sensory spa-like experience. But other forms of music can be highly beneficial as well. Microphones, soundboards, and headphones can all be used to provide the right auditory input to encourage listening and learning. How about quiet though? Silence? It too has its own sound and can be used for mindful practices and calming. Listening is a primary form of receiving communication and can be taught by role modeling listening to ourselves.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
An image can portray a thought or message like no words can. For those with neuro-differences, images can be cast on the walls of a classroom, sensory room, or bedroom to create an environment of choice. We can also use lights to encourage visual processing and eye tracking. Images can be used to communicate a season, a thought, or a feeling. Using picture books without words or photos to convey feelings can help those with social challenges to learn emotional intelligence.
The Lost Art of Writing
We use our words to portray what we are thinking. Books, blogs, poetry, and prose are all means for learning to express. A word of caution - what we write may be permanent, so choose your words wisely. Teaching non-verbal individuals to communicate through language can be a wonderful creative challenge. The expertise of a good speech and language therapist or special education specialist can dramatically assist communication skills development and open up a whole new world to those with hearing or language impairments.
Take a Walk in the Park
Knowing how to improve communication skills might not be as complex as you initially think. Nature provides a superb form of communication. A walk in the park, hike, visit to the ocean, or a day outside can offer lessons in non-verbal communication. Plants, trees, flowers, and insects all communicate, and it may be worth your while to spend some time observing.
Acting provides another means of relaying messages to those willing to listen. A good drama coach can help someone who may be withdrawn to express themselves on stage in ways they cannot do in ordinary situations. Check out your local drama workshop for those with special needs to see if it may be a fit for someone you know. Using drama in combination with mirrors, vocalization, and touch can provide a great sensory integration session as well.
Though we may think of communication as sending an email or talking by phone in today's world, for many individuals with unique learning, neurological, or sensory needs, exploring touch, sound, art, imagery, writing, nature, or drama may open the door to a world that is otherwise closed shut. Without social expectations, they can learn to explore and express in a safe, secure environment, and you can help to support individuals with specific communication needs.