Saturday, March 12, 2016

Socially Speaking, Conversational Courtesy, and Aphasia Speech Therapy

Mark A. Ittleman
he Teaching of Talking
Posted October 22, 2014

Last evening my wife and I were invited to a niece’s birthday party. You know the drill; pizza, cake and presents. As what happens with most birthday parties there are guests who may be “new” to the group.  When this occurs it is customary to have the new visitor “introduced” to all the guests, with a repetition of each person’s name. Whether child or adult, going somewhere new, and meeting unfamiliar people can be daunting, esp. if one is confronted with new names to remember.

So in walks Mom and her son. As they were introduced one by one to the group, I noticed she was fingerspelling the names of each person to the young man, while his head was bowed, and making only eye contact with his mothers’ fingers, but never lifting his eyes to those of the other guests. That introductory process did not yield a “meeting of another person,” only the recognition of a finger spelled name. There was no attempt to speak, repetition of the name, no eye contact, or gestures on the part of this child. After the introductions, I realized no one really met him; that it was all a formality that seemed to have NO MEANING for this child, nor anyone else. As soon as this process was repeated with all the guests the child sat down on the couch with his smartphone and continued playing a game without stopping although other children were coming up to him and checking out what game he was playing. One child had the same game on his phone, but it was still curious there was minimal if any interactions with anyone at the party other than the game on his smartphone.

How sad, I thought that this child was in a hearing world and had no social or interactional skills, and knew nothing of the social intricacies of communication courtesy. I also realized that similar behaviors occur with others who do not speak, and become silent and withdrawn. Now we are also a part of a culture where we have become so attached to our technology and often oblivious to the real world.

The key point here is the need for anyone who has a speaking difficulty, whether from birth or acquired, to learn even minimal social and interactional skills. This has much to do with the caregiver or parent, and without a full understanding of the ways one can engage a person in a world that speaks, many of the joys of life are lost.

Caregivers and parents of those with communication difficulties as a whole need to realize and stimulate their loved ones to have simple verbal and non-verbal communication with others. Unfortunately from the letters I have read, and from the social media, the caregiver is often at a loss for knowing what to do to help their loved one speak, and often report that speech does not come back as readily as physical and occupational skills.

Speaking professionals, parents and caregivers must teach/stimulate communication basics whether it be to those who have not developed the ability to speak and interact or to those who once did but no longer do. When that happens those with speaking difficulties can be more engaged, and share-develop new social contacts, or “friends.”

From an observational standpoint it was readily apparent what goals I would pursue as a therapist or parent with the child mentioned above.  Communication experts can readily identify, and develop real life goals and opportunities in the real world for those with speaking difficulties to practice.

  • Stimulate eye contact for the comprehension of a person’s name in finger spelling and during any introduction to another person.
  • Stimulate Gestures for hello, formulate a smile, and appropriate answering of Yes and No Questions.
  • Stimulate a “Hi” or Hello in speech.
  • Stimulate a phrase: Nice to meet you; or good to meet you; I don’t talk much.
  • Stimulate the phrase “I’m __(name).”
  • Stimulate two word phrase: “Wanna play?”
  • Stimulate simple single word vocabulary such as Please, and Thank you; yes and no.
(and the list goes on).

There is so much a therapist, caregiver or parent can do to stimulate social and interactional communication. In todays society it is necessary to have functional communication skills.

Find out how to learn to stimulate speaking and talking, at home and when out and about through rather simple methods that often yield improved speaking if one is highly motivated and has an ability to repeat simple sounds, vowels, syllables-words accurately.

Mark A. Ittleman, M.S., CCC/SLP
Senior Speech Language Pathologist
Author: Teaching of Talking

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