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Game Night: Communication for Connection

Updated: Jul 4

Read how our clients and DSPs go above and beyond to make each other feel included in social settings... then read 3 ways you can do the same for individuals with different communication methods.

Strategy... Collaborative... Role playing... Deck building... Kinetic... Party...

All kinds of games are prepped and ready for play. It's Friday evening, and our meeting rooms have been transformed into lounges for playing board games with new and familiar people. A space has been set aside for taking sensory breaks. Bottles of water stand at the ready.

This is our monthly Game Night Social Group - open for free to any of our Waiver clients. It provides an opportunity for clients to connect with each other and for DSPs to connect to plan future joint activities.

Participants come in pairs or groups - some bringing their own games, some are ready for whatever we've laid out. Some are regulars - this is what they do every third Friday of each month. Some are checking out the event for the first time.

Client with DSP next to them lifting a pom-pom from a stack as part of a game

They settle into groups around different games. In one corner a DSP begins to demo a new deduction-style game. In another corner, players prepare a kinetic game of stacking fuzz balls. In another corner, players set up an old classic, ready to teach one player who has never gotten to play it.

There are more differences than just the styles of games.

At each table there are varying ages - adult to young adult, different experience levels, and even different communication styles.

Non-verbal communicators, AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device users, and verbal communicators - all are present and all are engaging with each other.

It's not effortless. Reaching across a communication divide is never effortless even if you're part of the same spectrum, but everyone is making the effort.

And the effort pays off. Each player learns as they go and gets more comfortable and fluent as the evening goes on.

Verbal communicators try their hand at using AAC devices to say, "Go Fish!" The device is no longer the "alternative" way to communicate; it is the group's way to communicate. The device users are no longer the outliers; they are equal participators with the voice users, not because the device has a voice, but because everyone can use the device.

Voice users and device users address and engage with non-verbal communicators. Non-verbal cues are observed and understood. No one is ignored. No one is just along for the ride. They are all active participants.

Each group navigates taking turns, following game rules, and making their own rules. Each group shares in competing, commiserating, and congratulating.

Communication is, after all, a kind of game with rules and strategies and styles. Like playing a game, it requires watching what others do and responding. That interaction, that connection, is what makes games - and communication - both fun and meaningful.

No one had to prompt this connection to happen. It occurred because those who came knew it was important. They knew each player mattered, and they made each other feel connected.

For our clients and DSPs, it was natural, but many voice users have never communicated with an AAC device user before or thought about what barriers might be present...

What can voice users do to make communication comfortable for AAC device users?

  1. Put the AAC device user first.

    1. This is true across all instances of inclusion and accommodation for all individuals: Ask them how they want to be supported. Trust that they are the best authority on how they want to interact and follow their preferences.

    2. Invite the AAC device user to choose the topic of conversation. Respect them as an equal partner in the conversation, not just an audience for your own thoughts.

  2. Learn about the differences caused by using an AAC device.

    1. The pace of communication may be different. Typing of selecting words is slower than the process of retrieving speech. Have patience. Don't jump ahead or rush. Don't try to predict what the AAC device user will say. Listen, wait, and be attentive.

    2. The use of nonverbal cues may overlap with the AAC message differently than with a vocal message. Don't judge a response as being rude just because it didn't have the nonverbal cues or tone or extra words you might expect from a voice user.

    3. The user may need to break eye contact or begin composing a response while their communication partner is still speaking. (Unlike for most voice users, preparing the next message isn't an invisible process.) Don't assume they aren't paying attention or are trying to interrupt.

  3. Watch your biases.

    1. It is easy to assume that slow speech or the absence of nonverbal cues indicate a lack of communication skills or, more dramatically, a lack of intelligence. But this is a false correlation.

    2. AAC devices have expanded users' abilities to share their thoughts, perspectives, and insights, but the technology is not yet perfect. Never assume that the limitations of technology are the limitations of individuals.

    3. Always be ready to learn new things!

illustration of a person and and AAC screen


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