16 December 2018

Treat me like everyone else

As someone who has experienced firsthand both the challenges and opportunities of non-verbal communication, Emma who has cerebral palsy atypical and ALS 2, shares the dos and don’ts to help others communicate successfully.

"People assume that I have an intellectual disability just because I’m non-verbal. They also get up in my personal space and speak to me as if I’m a child. I have had instances where they dismiss me completely. I want to be treated like everyone else.”

This was the heartfelt account 25-year-old Emma shared when she addressed a packed room
in Hornsby, New South Wales. Emma has cerebral palsy atypical and ALS 2, an extremely rare degenerative faulty gene disease. As someone who has experienced firsthand both the challenges and opportunities of non-verbal communication, Emma spoke to Just Better Care staff to share the techniques that have helped her.

She offered best practice tips for how to support and communicate with someone who is non-verbal:

1. Talk to me.

Just because someone is nonverbal doesn’t mean they don’t understand what is said to them.
Many people who are non-verbal do comprehend spoken words and can respond using other
forms of communication, such as facial expressions, body language, and written responses.

2. Recognise visual cues.

The more time you spend with someone who is non-verbal, the more you will begin to pick up on their expressions and body language. As you recognise these cues, you will start to figure out
what they mean and how to respond accordingly.

3. Use a buddy system.

One of the quickest ways to get to know someone and how they like things to be done is to
team up with a family member of theirs or an existing Support Professional. As a buddy, they can guide you on best practice as you get to know your new customer. It can also make the customer feel more comfortable as they get to know you.

4. Find common interests.

One thing Emma appreciates when she has a new Support Professional is uncovering shared
interests and activities they can enjoy together, such as music, television shows, films, games and hobbies. Emma is a passionate jewellery maker, and so she welcomes support to fulfil
this passion.

5. Don’t make assumptions.

Having a disability doesn’t define who a person is or what they can achieve. Customers need support from people who they can trust, and who believe in them. Don’t make assumptions
about what they can and cannot do. If in doubt, ask them what they would like to achieve and
how they’d like to get there.

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