Communication - The Need To Speak "The Language"

May 12, 2010

A lot has been going on in our house in the last few days. Lauren’s new caregiver has started and we’ve had house guests – Anne, a former caregiver, her husband, and nine-month-old baby. My attention has had to be splintered and I’ve been juggling everyone’s needs in an effort to keep people fed, entertained, and happy. There has been a lot of interaction between people who don’t interact on a frequent basis or who have simply never met. This has brought into sharp focus how Lauren’s lack of communication skills affects her ability to interact with others. It results in her being isolated, detached, and frustrated.

Working with Lauren requires you to basically learn another language. One that is unique to Lauren. This new caregiver must learn to interpret sounds, expressions, and moods. It will take time and effort to begin to understand Lauren and she can be downright intimidating. Right now she’s PMSing and her moods are swinging in every direction – loudly, and insistently. It takes a great deal of judgment and guessing to figure out what Lauren needs, what she wants, and when she’s basically “pulling your chain”. I have to constantly be Lauren’s interpreter until the caregiver becomes fluent. Lauren communicates in minute changes in vocalizations and body language. I feel that my efforts to explain her language are often inadequate and confusing.

Lauren’s language has changed in the twelve years since her former caregiver worked with her. So, there was a certain distance between them during this visit. Distance or unfamiliarity often occurs between people who haven’t seen each other in awhile. Most of us overcome that with a good chat session. Now, I am the interpreter, the storyteller, the link between the past and present. But connecting with someone through someone else is an inadequate substitute to communicating with someone directly. So, during this brief visit, the former relationship has had no chance of being rebuilt.

And how does Lauren befriend the new people in Anne’s life? Anne’s husband has no history with Lauren beyond Anne’s stories of her time with us. He has no experience with someone with developmental disabilities. So he is watchful and quiet – he remains a stranger, a new voice in the room that has no meaning, connection, or value to Lauren. And she has no tools with which to reach out to a stranger for whom she represents a scary unknown.

So, the new caregiver will need to rely on me for many days to come as Lauren’s interpreter, one of the very few people in this world who speaks her language. And, a lovely visit with an old friend and the new ones she has introduced into our lives has left me a bit sad. Lauren was in our midst, yet set apart by her inability to engage on her own. It is quite apparent that like a stranger in a foreign land, Lauren’s journey through her life would be infinitely richer, safer, and easier if she “spoke the language”.

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