Communicating by ‘typical’ means – by speaking and listening or using the written word – is the way most of us share and connect with each other. These are the methods we tend to use to express ourselves and how we make friends, feel close to others and make ourselves visible in the world.
But what if you do not communicate in this ‘typical’ way? Would it mean you were excluded from ‘typical’ activities and conversations? And would this in turn lead to loneliness and frustration? How does it feel to be such a person?
This is Greg’s story and the story of his community – a community who came together to overcome the barriers to communication – and the loneliness and isolation that could have followed.
The York House community is both lively and welcoming – it’s immediately obvious how supported the residents feel and how much pleasure everyone takes from each other’s company. Greg is a creative and vibrant member of that community. He loves eating out, socialising, holidaying abroad, watching sport and going to live concerts. Greg also has cerebral palsy and does not communicate verbally.
Greg has developed his own unique way of communicating and it involves his whole community: the people around him enable him to spell out what he wants to say. First, they ask Greg what part of the alphabet each letter is in: A to N, or M to Z. To indicate which letter he’s selected, Greg uses his body language and raises himself up slightly in his wheelchair. Once the letter group is identified, each letter is vocalised by the other person.
Once again, Greg uses body language as a substitute for his voice and, letter by letter, the words he wants to communicate are spelled out. His friends and community around him talk with pride about his immense determination and how, encouraged by his family, he believes that anything is possible.
He reveals that, due to a lack of patience and negative presumptions made about him, he has often been avoided or isolated. This is something that Greg finds hard to understand. ‘Why don’t people learn how I communicate rather than ignoring me or leaving me out?’
Explaining how others have ignored or side lined him in the past is painful for Greg but living at York House changed all that. His community there has enabled him to develop his skills and be confident about who he is in the world.
‘I rely on people to help me achieve the things that I want to do,’ he says. ‘I have recently been offered one-to-one support, six hours a week and it has changed my life’. Using the creative communication skills that he has developed, Greg has decided to become a teacher to show others different ways of communicating.
Greg’s success is as much due to the community around him as to his own determination and creativity. ‘I have a small friendship group who can communicate with me, but I am also very much part of the larger family who live here,’ he explained. His friends can also be relied on to break the ice with people who are new to York House — acting as a bridge to help others to join in, including his friends and family who visit from abroad, from Ireland and Spain.
The more people learn how to communicate with Greg, the more barriers are removed and the more he is able to express his vibrant character and ideas. Supported by his community, has begun to feel more ‘part of the world’.
The residents at York house also enjoy communicating with Greg. They all agreed that, ‘It takes time. You have to spell out the word and sometimes make sense of it.’ But it also gives everyone a chance to get to know each other because, ‘Then you have a chat’. These chats are precious, and lead to new friendships or deepen current ones. In the past, Greg has been offered technology to communicate, hitting a switch to say, ‘How are you?’ But Greg felt that it shut down real interaction with others.
Now that he and his friends spell words out together they enjoy ‘spending more time with him’. They’ve found that when communication is creative and you focus on really meeting and being with a person it creates a strong bond.
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