Inclusive Communication = Less Anxiety
Ayodeji Oyewale is a lecturer at Nash College Bromley United Kingdom who also has several years of experience teaching students with autism spectrum disorder. He has a passion for helping and supporting those with learning disabilities. He wrote an article for Autism Parenting Magazine titled "Embracing Inclusive Communication to Minimize Anxieties" in order to encourage teachers, parents, and caregivers in their efforts to reduce behaviors of concern among children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). The overall goal of his writing is to help readers within this community to develop a good sense of communication and shared meaning for objects, words, and issues that may be common in our society. Shared meaning is important because it impacts the cohesion and inclusivity of different groups of people within our communities and society. Understandably, it can be extremely frustrating to those groups who may vary from "normal" due to their disabilities or cognitive levels when the meanings of the world around them are communicated in ways that are difficult to comprehend and unclear in regards to relationships, objects, gestures, and conflicts. It is all too common that we, as a society, tend to overlook these differences and fail to adjust our communication channels when communicating with those of varying abilities than ours, so it is very important we instead, choose to break our communication down in order to accommodate their needs. Thankfully, special education schools, universities, and speech and language professionals have begun to embrace those with SEND and are learning to better support and encourage them. However, as a whole, our society could still use some work in recognizing that these children and adults are just as part a part of our communities as we are. If we learn to adapt to and adopt their levels of communication outside of homes and schools, then children and people with SEND will likely develop a sense of belonging, connection, and integration within their worlds. They will begin to feel loved, accepted, included and attached to the society as they begin to understand shared meanings. The first thing that Oyewale mentions in his writing to move our society towards inclusive communication is fundamental strategies for positive communication with SEND. The first thing to recognize is that "most anxieties are functional" which means that an individual may not really know that their behavior or expression through voice or outward anxiety is sending out a message, however, it is on us to interpret these moments in order to understand what they are communicating to us. They could be hungry, in pain, uncomfortable, bored, tired, over-stimulated, etc. and we have to be open to working with them in order to better meet their needs. Some anxieties, though, may be more difficult to understand as they resemble a stereotypical behavior that may have a sensory function. If possible, try to assess the person's behavior or mood before initiating any interaction, then simplify the communication to reduce anxiety and help them to express their needs rather than exhibit any behaviors of concern. Visual aids are wonderful tools for illustrating spoken information so that it can be understood more easily. Visual aids also help those with SEND focus, find structure, avoid frustration, reduce anxiety, build routines, promote independence and gain a better understanding of the world and people around them. Certain individuals may also have a preference of visual aids that are used for communication with them. Most of the time, their preferred aid can be found in their personal behavior support plan or you can use trial and error to determine the best way to use aids with an individual with SEND who is close to you. Occasionally, those with SEND may also display some anxiety when it comes to socializing with others, which will stigmatize them as destructive or dangerous. The reality is that these individuals are just sensitive and they interpret body language quickly, so remaining calm and friendly is imperative in creating appropriate and inclusive communication. Individuals with SEND may also need a little more time to process the information that is given to them, therefore, the delivery of a message must be clear, concise and to the point as overloading them with information could be harmful. One way to do this is by paying attention to the individual's body language and looking for signs that indicate that they understand the information being communicated. When this is accomplished, anxieties are reduced and the individual will have more opportunities to communicate with the world around them. Our society can also do a better job at creating a structure that is easier for those with SEND to understand. Two ways of doing so would be for media companies to use sign language in their productions more and for there to be universally accepted signals on public signage that everyone can understand; these two in and of themself would elicit a more inclusive society. Oyewale also suggests that parents, guardians and special needs schools and colleges need to incorporate activities that will enhance and support effective communication for those with SEND. One way of doing this is increasing societal awareness, which will provide an opportunity for those with SEND to experience different cultural, musical and socialization processes. These opportunities can be achieved through multi-sensory methods that expose the individuals to real-life experiences with differing cultural costumes, foods and/or beliefs that will ultimately, help them interact and socialize with others in their society despite the possible difference in cognitive levels. All in all, inclusive communication gives those with SEND the ability to respond to their environment appropriately and to gain a greater awareness of the world around, which will not only enhance lives but social and creative development as well. It's our responsibility as a society to encourage those with SEND and raise awareness of the importance of communicating with them sensitively and appropriately in order to progress the inclusivity of our communities and society as a whole.