I recently found this timely reminder for parents:
"When you have to pick [between parenting and teaching], because at some point you will, choose connection."
Connection -- this is a word that I've seen pop up with surprising frequency these past few weeks, mostly in social media posts or articles relating to working at home, school closures and virtual learning, and social distancing. But it's also a concept that is important specifically to speech and language therapy.
What is the purpose of communication? There are a few different schools of thought. Pretty much everyone agrees, though, that connection to others is at least one important purpose. Some people think that interpersonal connection is THE most important reason to communicate. Others think that connection is important but equally ranked in importance with conveying information and/or getting one's needs and wants met. Either way, the need to connect with others plays an undeniably vital role in how we learn and use communication skills throughout our lives.
Connection & AAC
For people with complex communication needs (e.g. non-speakers, people with significant language disorders, etc.), teaching and therapy often focus on them learning to communicate about their basic needs. This seems like an intuitive priority to make. But when you really think about it, it becomes less clear why we always default to this as a first communication goal.
Physical safety and well-being are important, obviously, and communicating about basic needs (e.g. hunger, thirst, pain, bathrooming, etc.) helps ensure that those things are addressed for the communicator. But is conventional communication the only way to ensure that someone's basic needs are met? Not always. How does a parent of an infant know when to feed them?
Clearly it isn't ideal to have to depend on others "reading" your body language or behaviors to make sure your basic needs are met. But the fact that this kind of "reading" is sometimes even possible might suggest that basic needs may not always be the most urgent priority when helping someone learn to communicate.
So other than basic needs, what else could we focus on? You guessed it, our Word-of-the-Day, connection.
Here are some other people's thoughts on the importance of targeting interpersonal connection when supporting AAC learners:
Being with Another: The Basis for AAC intervention?: This article is by Erna Alant, an SLP who literally wrote the book about prioritizing connection in AAC therapy. Going to one of her conference presentations and reading her book fundamentally changed the way I approach AAC -- for the better.
Connection – The Heart of Communication: This is a video from an online conference presentation by Lauren Enders (SLP), whom I've seen speak a few times and is an amazing resource. Disclaimer: I haven't had the chance to watch this presentation personally, but I'm going to go ahead and recommend it just based on the speaker and the topic.
We Use a High-Tech Speech Generating Device, But We Prioritize Connection: From Kim Rankin, AAC parent extraordinaire.
Connection & Autism
The push to prioritize teaching communication for meeting needs and wants tends to be especially strong for autistic learners. This push come from a few different sources, but one of the more compelling ones is the observation that many autistic learners are more motivated to communicate for requesting concrete items or actions than they are by more abstract or purely social purposes. In my clinical experience, this is often the case.
However, I've run into a few exceptions to this rule. These autistic clients were vastly more interested in communicating for social purposes than for "getting stuff" or controlling their environment. For these learners, focusing first on requesting and getting basic needs met before moving on to social communication would have been a counter-productive approach to therapy. Focusing on ways to communicate and use language to connect with other people, however, tapped into their own intrinsic motivation and therefore was the key to supporting their learning.
Here are a couple more resources related to connection and autism: