Imagine not being able to say a single word. Or consider that your speech is labored and difficult for others to understand, therefore conversations move too quickly for you to participate. This is the reality for many people with intellectual challenges. The fact that they are nonverbal or that their speech is not understandable adds a level of complexity to their lives that most of us will never experience. The frustration, confusion and even fear that results from not being comprehended by others can have profound consequences on their quality of life, their physical safety and their emotional well-being.
For those who are not able to express themselves in a way that is easily understood, it can be a lifelong challenge to be acknowledged and to be included. That is why it is critical to educate society so that people realize that just because someone has a developmental disability which makes it difficult for them to communicate verbally does not mean that they don’t have important things to share. Over the years, individuals have been marginalized because they could not express themselves with understandable speech, or they chose not to speak at all. This led to a tragic leap of logic which made listeners believe that these individuals did not have anything of value to say.
Right now you and I are communicating without verbal words being exchanged, and yet we are connected by a subject of interest in the hope that information can be transmitted from one person to another. If you have opinions on this topic you can respond by leaving a comment. At that point we will have shared our thoughts with each other even though we may be on different continents. No speech will have been involved and yet, hopefully, we will have each had a mutually satisfying exchange of ideas that are useful. This is just one example of the power of communication when the two parties do not verbally speak to each other.
Because all human beings share the overwhelming desire to be understood, we are driven to communicate throughout our lives. It is one of the early milestones for babies, and it’s one of the essential pillars that make up the foundation our social order is built on. It allows the free exchange of ideas and information between individuals and groups. That is why it is morally wrong to exclude individuals who have difficulty verbalizing their thoughts. Society has a responsibility to ensure that every person is able to communicate in a way that is appropriate for them. Whatever it takes to allow a person to express their wants and needs must be made available to them. We cannot deny anyone their right to be understood.
We can just look at the dramatic rise of facebook, twitter and blogs and it is obvious that our desire to connect with others is a dominate part of our lives. However, it is the spoken word that most of us use to convey our hopes, dreams, pain and frustration. When something happens in our lives, whether good or bad, we can’t wait to share it with everyone. Part of the great joy of having good news is being able to tell others about it, and when we have bad news we feel better when we talk to someone. Our deep need to explain and complain is an integral part of the human effort to bond with others.
Because every person has the right to communicate and to be understood, it is morally wrong to dismiss another human being simply because they cannot talk clearly and effortlessly. A person whose speech is halting deserves to have our attention. They have the right to speak without being interrupted or having someone try to finish their sentence. We must show respect for their efforts to engage us. The right to communicate freely absolutely extends to those who happen to have challenges expressing themselves verbally. We cannot let their thoughts and ideas go unappreciated simply because we refuse to make the effort to understand them. There are many creative ways for a person to converse, and we have to be willing to make those opportunities and services available to those who might not be heard without them.
When a person with a developmental disability attempts to tell us what they want or need, we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to fully comprehend them. It is up to each of us to do what is necessary to allow successful interaction between all people no matter what their circumstances might be. When someone’s speech is difficult to understand, attentive listening is a sign of respect. When someone is nonverbal we honor their dignity by communicating in a way that is comfortable for them. Under no circumstances can we be dismissive of someone because it requires a little extra time and patience on our part to connect with them.
People who have challenges with their speech can be extremely imaginative and bursting with creativity. They have so much to offer that we must make sure that they have every opportunity to express themselves fully. When we protect the right of every member of society to share their thoughts, ideas and opinions we all benefit from those contributions. No matter what method of communication is used to exchange information between people, the beauty of diversity enhances everyone’s lives because what truly matters in our world can be expressed without words. After all, a person who is nonverbal does not actually have to say, “I love you”, to be able to convey such a personal and heartfelt emotion. We just have to be willing to let them tell us in their own way.
The experience of life is to be shared with others. That is why not having your communication understood can create the worst kind of loneliness and isolation.
Every human being deserves to be included in the conversation of life.