Saturday, July 26, 2008

caregiving: communicating

We live in an extraordinary age of communication. Most of us communicate effortlessly. 


Effortlessly is good, assuming that everyone else 'can' is something we all need to work on.


Patti’s MS symptoms create a dangerous kind of pot luck communication, visual impairment (legally blind), cognitive impairment, and memory loss


Patti can ‘appear’ OK. In conversation, a well intended guest might offer her food that could have catastrophic results with her MS related dysphagia. She is not going to say “no” to something sweet, but she is going to forget to chew and swallow without verbal cues. Also unable to direct her own care, a simple medical or care question from a stranger could be disastrous.


Telephones are so challenging both cognitively and physically for Patti they are rarely used. "Reach out and touch someone" is not in her world and could put her at undue risk if unattended.


In the communication challenged world of autism, schools and families use symbols.


Archeologists believe we have been writing with symbols since 6,000 BC.


Writing With Symbols 2000 is a symbol processing program by Mayer-Johnson. You type as usual except text and associated symbols appear on screen.


While most schools or families primarily use only the symbol processor part, the program can also empower verbal sharing. When the student is creating their text, they can have the words spoken back to him or her. 

With this note above, if using a PC with Writing with Symbols, pausing the mouse over a symbol speaks the word. You can use standard icons or insert your own pictures.


Social stories created with such software are a foundation in autism caregiving. A story is created, reviewed and rehearsed with a parent or caregiver and then the story is used to guide behavior.


Long ago as a speech communication major at the University of Maryland I was always intrigued by an axiom offered by a communication theorist, Paul Watzlawick, “Man kann nicht nicht kommunizieren.” (One Cannot Not Communicate)


Yes, communication challenges can isolate. However, families and friends also speak even when they say nothing at all.


Caregivingly Yours, J Patrick Leer 





(also available in Blogger edition, Caregiver Blog: "Caregivingly Yours")


  1. I can definitely see the advantages of a program like this. In so many different ways sign language for the deaf has been used in the pretty much the same way, for that matter braille is used in this way for the blind. It makes sense they would come up with something to enable to cognitive understanding of someone with MS. (Hugs)Indigo

  2. alerts must have been messed up yesterday, Patrick, because I never got this one; very interesting program; I can see a lot of advantages to it

    I think your last statement is true no matter how well people can communicate together in a family



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