By Anne Laney, Practice Manager
The sound of conversation using words, the ebb and flow of voice intonation and the rhythm of speech can be motivating, reassuring and foster feelings of inclusion for all of us, even if in a language we do not speak ourselves.
There seems little doubt that some of the people we visit (some for many years and some who do not speak) appear to enjoy a good ‘natter’. It is part of their relationship with us. It sets the tone for our relaxed and safe time together.
Our purpose is always to support the people we see to feel (and be) heard, building their confidence to communicate however they wish in the knowledge that we are listening, and exploring how to maximise opportunities for them to connect socially with us and other people.
It seems relevant then to consider just how the addition of our words to an interaction effects our relationships.
As most people who use Intensive Interaction understand, using our own words is not only unnecessary, but is potentially unhelpful. It can move focus away from the personal communication style of those we are there to see. It might be seen as a way of easing the flowof an interaction in those moments when we’re not quite sure which direction the conversation is moving in.
With this in mind, our team of practitioners explored the concept of using fewer words during their sessions, embracing the concept fully and in some cases extending the idea of “not speaking” to include the communication between practitioners.
This meant cutting out, or reducing the words we spoke, not stifling the communication for the people we were visiting. We also kept important safeguarding talk for instance “I am moving your wheelchair now”.
The team kept records during the Fewer Words Fortnight and we thought some of you might find it useful and interesting.
They were asked to give words to describe their experiences and they said…
Profound (x2), limiting, playful, curious, challenging (x4), enlightening, tricky, interesting (x2), unusual, eye-opening worthwhile, Isolating, clarifying, exciting, moving.
What was hard?
- Sessions when someone has a visual impairment felt like I was robbing them of a sensory “experience”.
- Finding ways to connect a group when someone has a visual impairment.
- To feel unified with my working partner (without running commentary)
- Holding back from speaking! Connecting/sharing/linking celebrating
- When words come naturally and it’s hard to stop them
- When our non-verbal response is not an “adequate” substitute for our usual words, especially when someone seems to expect us to use words.
- Words seem important to convey our intention to our working partners.
- Finding ways of seeking permission to repeat an element of an interaction
What was Easy?
- Easier to use fewer/no words when on a solo (working alone). Eliminating general commenting and keeping to purer II.
- When someone uses their voice a lot in a non-verbal way. There’s lots to use.
- Predicting which sessions might work with ease and which would be more challenging.
- Communicating with interaction partners who are nonverbal.
- Sessions which don’t use many words anyway.
- Focusing on people who have very expressive faces and gestures.
What did you notice about…?
The way you responded to the people in the session
- For those we usually use words with it was a quieter interaction with prolonged eye contact. Not much difference for those who we don’t routinely use words with.
- Sessions appeared less lively. We responded by using exaggerated body language, eye contact and basic sign language instead of words.
- I was quieter but there was no obvious differencein the Intensive Interaction
- Felt completely at ease in some sessions and thoroughly constricted in others. Part of this was deciding how much speech I should use with someone who does use language and then worrying if I’d got this right.
- It’s always easier to tune in and focus on someone when using less words. Concentration is divided.
- I was more focussed. There were more pauses and “uncluttered” space.
- I was more creative with my responses.
How they responded to you
- Often better, less distraction provided they are able to respond and focus. It may require more concentration?
- I don’t remember there being much difference. Not sure if I was so focused on not talking it internalised my attention.
- Seemed to make some people sleepier. They added less vocalisations.
- For some it felt more connected perhaps cutting out that which “muddies” the communication?
- Prolonged eye contact.
- Quieter interactions
- Reaching for keyboard or table
- Some people felt distant, perhaps noticing what they may consider a comforting voice.
- Some people seemed to seek my responses more and felt more connected.
- Some seemed confused and then delighted as they experimented.
- Some seemed confused and frustrated.
- Some seemed no different
- They were mostly more focused. Some seemed puzzled. In general I think there was less “shutting down” by some people and I felt more connected to them.
We also asked them to take note of any feedback they received from parents, staff and observers. In general, and one suspects because we communicate often and in depth with these people, the team noticed little difference in levels of interaction with them. It perhaps encouraged observers to attend a little more closely to what was happening, and there were one or two positive comments about levels of interest being shown by the people in the people we were there to see.
Finally, we were keen to find out how the experience might influence practitioners work in the future. Here are some of their thoughts.
- I will be more mindful of using too many words when feeling “stuck” in a session.
- I will return to the concept and experiment some more
- Stick to my principles and respond in ways I think my interaction partner appreciates the most.
- I will ensure my use of speech is limited by purpose. Likely to be to communicate with my working partner, boosting self-esteem with those who have language, explaining what is going to happen (moving someone’s chair)
- I will be conscious of “chitchat” that can occur, especially when someone is sleepy.
- I will try fewer words again. Being confident to use with people who are not “an obvious choice”.
- I have already tried to reduce the number of words I used particularly with those who seem to “close down”.
- I’d like to challenge myself to have a “fewer” words session with my most able group but will choose my moment!
From this wide variety of responses it is clear there are several aspects of our sessions that can be affected by using words.
It highlights the importance, perhaps for Us in a Bus Practitioners more than others as we routinely work in pairs, the importance of being able to communicate with each other. As strong as the partnerships are, no-one is psychic and the need to express an intent, idea or concern cannot always be conveyed without words. Using a commentary which incorporates these thoughts in a subtle and respectful way is invaluable.
Another thing that stands out is the concern that those with visual impairments may not be receiving the highest level of inclusion when words are not used to convey information. There is even a feeling we are “denying” them a sensory experience. Many of our sessions are group-based and the techniques we use to link people in the group, increasing their awareness of each other and themselves, often involve speaking.
I think the following phrase, adapted from a feedback comment, stands out as possibly the best description of how our words should be used within our Intensive Interaction sessions and it is this:
“I will ensure my use of speech is guided by purpose”.
The requirement for us to always hold in our head the purpose for our time together, is fundamental to the way we work, and having the knowledge that reducing our speech is often a clarifying, focusing event (for both us and the people we visit) is important to remember.