If you are communicating with a special needs adult in your professional or personal life, there are a few things to keep in mind. The most important thing to consider when communicating with special needs adults is that, like anyone else, they respond well to respect and kindness. In many ways, communicating with a special needs adult is like communicating with other adults, but here are a few tips to ensure you are communicating effectively and respectfully.
Approach a special needs adult in the same way you would anyone else, with respect and courtesy. If the individual is in a wheelchair, please take care not to lean on or put your weight on it, as it can be very uncomfortable and even painful for them. Individuals in wheelchairs may also appreciate if you sit down in order to engage with them at eye level, partly out of appreciation for the display of respect and partly out of appreciation for not having to look upwards, which can lead to uncomfortable neck strain.
Speaking clearly and directly is a great way to enter into any conversation with another individual. Don’t assume that a person is hard of hearing just because they have special needs, but if you find in the midst of conversation that you are being asked to repeat yourself, you may speak up. When speaking to an adult with special needs, do not alter your tone of voice to align with that of the tone you would use when speaking to a child. Special needs adults are after all adults, and you’ll find that they prefer to be spoken to in the same manner in which other adults are spoken to.
When communicating with a special needs adult, make eye contact. Eye contact indicates empathy and respect and conveys to the listener or speaker that you are interested in hearing what they have to say. Looking elsewhere when speaking to a special needs adult can convey that you are uncomfortable, which can in turn both offend and make the other person uncomfortable, leading to an awkward situation that is best avoided.
Like eye contact, listening attentively conveys respect and an honest desire to hear and understand what someone has to say. When speaking to a special needs adult, ask them questions to further engage them in conversation, and let them know you are genuinely interested in their dialogue by offering the occasional nod or smile to let them know you understand and appreciate what they have to say.
Independence is something we all value to some degree. Just because an individual has special needs does not mean they are incapable of completing their own tasks and chores or making their own decisions. Don’t try to take over or take charge of a task or activity for a person with special needs unless your help is specifically requested, and don’t make decisions on their behalf, especially important decisions, without their consent or approval.
All human beings are valuable, important, and unique. Just as with anyone else, it’s not acceptable to make assumptions about adults with special needs and their perceived talents, capabilities, and intelligence level. When communicating with someone with special needs, don’t assume they are hard of hearing and raise your voice to an unnecessarily loud level, don’t assume they cannot hold an adult conversation just like others their age, and don’t assume that they don’t understand social cues or subtle changes in body language and tone of voice.
If you encounter an individual that you know is deaf, remember that they are most likely able to understand what you are saying through the act of lipreading. Keep your hands and other objects away from your mouth, and clearly enunciate words so that they are able to understand what you are saying.
There are many opportunities to volunteer your time and energy with special needs adults. From engaging in conversation to hobbies and other activities, the simple act of providing your company can go a long way in making an individual with special needs feel at ease. If you’re interested in volunteering in the Memphis area, consider scheduling a tour at the Baddour Center in Senatobia. From teaching art classes to volunteering in the garden or packaging center, there are a variety of ways to become involved at Baddour.