Remember that everyone is unique, so it is good to explore different ways of communicating - what works for one person might not work for someone else.
1. Using objects of reference
These are objects that have special meanings attached to them. They are useful for people who are unable to understand pictures or symbols. They can help someone to understand what is being discussed or to anticipate an event or activity.
To help make an object meaningful to the person you support it can be useful to present the object and follow it straightaway with the activity it represents - for example presenting a cup and then following it by giving the person a drink. Once a link has been made between the object and an event or activity, the object can start to represent that activity. If objects of reference are developed for different activities then they might provide a way for someone to get involved in choosing what they want to do.
To make an object of reference, think about an item that could be linked to an activity that the person you support does regularly, like shopping. Think of creative ways - for example using sound and smell - that you can use to help make a link between that object and the activity. Then see if the person associates that object with the activity. Try it with other activities too, and try using objects of reference with the person to help plan and choose what activities they want to do.
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2. Use of appropriate communication aids
Many communication aids are not appropriate for people with PMLD, for example, voice recognition software. However, a Big Mack, which allows sounds to be recorded and activated at the push of a button, is an example of a communication aid which can help someone with PMLD communicate. You can record a noise on a Big Mack and stick pictures on it or attach an object to it to help prompt the person to use it. The person can then communicate and get involved by pressing the Big Mack and activating the message or sound.
She really enjoyed making her videos and having her photo taken.
The use of video and digital photography to show how someone communicates is also being used more and more. This equipment is a ‘communication aid' as it gives people with PMLD the opportunity to show people how they communicate via film or photos. It also gives them the opportunity to share other things about themselves, for example what they like doing.
3. Intensive Interaction
Intensive interaction involves quality 1-to-1 time between a teacher or support worker and the student. It teaches the pre-speech ‘fundamentals' of communication -or communication before language. It can also be used simply as a meaningful way of being with someone.
Intensive interaction simply involves the person with a learning disability and a partner - who should be quite sensitive. Together they progress through relaxed, enjoyable, interactive sequences. The style of intensive interaction is very much one of exploratory play and involves validating the person's own ways of engaging with the external world and their body. It is a sensitive and respectful way of interacting with someone.
If you are interested in this technique, you should spend some time thinking about how the person you support engages with the outside world and their body. Intensive interaction is about sharing someone's world and communicating with someone on their terms, in a way that is meaningful to them, in their language.
4. Communication passports
A communication passport presents the person positively as an individual. It draws together information from past and present, and from different contexts, to help staff and conversation partners understand the person, and have successful interactions. It is a place where the person's preferences can be recorded. The person's preferred means of communicating is also recorded - some innovative practice uses digital film. A communication passport is very useful way to help others understand how someone communicates.
- Read the CALL Centre's guidelines for good practice around creating and using personal communication passports
She is part of a multi-media profiling project. She can use it to communicate with staff - when they watch it with her they can learn about the things she likes, how she communicates and how she likes to be supported.
5. Use of multimedia
Using video and digital photography to develop computer-based personal profiles has helped people with PMLD to have ‘a voice' and put across their preferences in a really powerful way. It is an approach that is being used more and more. To start using multimedia, you could take some film of the person you support doing an activity they enjoy. See how they respond to being filmed and to watching film of themselves. Do you think the film is useful in showing how the person communicates and what they enjoy doing?
It is always important to think about issues around consent when you are filming someone or showing people's images. For more information read the Mencap factsheet ‘Consent: gaining consent to show people's images'