By Anna Redman, Interaction Practitioner
That feeling you get, you know, the one where you’re trying to work out what it is you’re trying to say, when something is on the tip of your tongue and you just need a moment to get it out? Well, we all experience this at times and probably the least helpful thing anyone can do is speak in that space and try to talk for you because – although intentions are likely good – it just throws you off.
This applies for the people we support also!
Many of us will have been guided by the theory to wait for a response until the gap feels uncomfortable and then wait some more. This is because the time that it takes for someone to process our input and formulate a response, then action it, is generally longer for people with learning disabilities. If someone does not give a response it doesn’t mean they don’t have one to give; it could be that they are simply experiencing delayed response times.
Dr Jean Ware, warns that if such time is not provided, then the learner may miss some experiences which foster early development, such as turn-taking skills developed through early games and through parent/infant ‘conversations’. Adequate processing time enables learners with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) to share control and enter into more equal interactions
Ware, J. (2003) Creating a responsive environment (2nd edition) London: David Fulton.
During these vital pauses there is a lot happening for your interaction partner. They are taking in and trying to fully understand the input/ information you have given them, working out if they know someone or something of this from previous encounters or knowledge, receiving and processing affirmation that your response to one of theirs is showing that you have received and understood their communicative effort, and, developing their sense of control. By maintaining pauses in our interactions and activities we create opportunities where our interactive partner can ‘fill the gap’ to make the interaction continue. As we remain consistent and responsive, treating all behaviours as communicative intent, this enters into a natural evolution.
Nind and Hewett discuss how repetition provides rehearsal and consolidation of known games and activities, and a continuous secure base and reference points. Through repetition variations occur, leading to new games and activities.
Nind, M. & Hewett, D. (1994) Access to Communication: Developing the basics of communication with people with severe learning difficulties through Intensive Interaction. London: David Fulton.
When we provide adequate pauses to let our partners’ express themselves then we enter into the two way repertoire that is the foundation of communication. We allow ourselves and our partner time to relax and find mutual enjoyment in interacting together, and we have time to reflect on the exciting processes happening throughout.