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10 Ways to Effectively Communicate with People of Differing Abilities for DSWs

By July 5, 2023No Comments
Developmental Service Worker

It may seem as though communicating with anyone should come naturally, if not a bit nerve wracking in moments. But the fact is, we can all get nervous at times. Add to that meeting those who see, hear, and experience the world differently than we do, and we could find connecting effectively difficult. It doesn’t have to be. With a few key tips to get you started, you can respectfully consider and communicate with those of varying abilities and then your relationship can grow from there.

If you’re looking to become a development service worker (DSW), are enrolled in a development service worker program/service worker program, you may dive into these areas more in depth. But these key tips can empower you to feel comfortable and help those you work with feel greater at ease.

10 Ways to Effectively Communicate with Those of Various Abilities –
Developmental Service Worker Graduates Should Know (and Use)


1. Communicate with Others the Way You Would Appreciate

This seems basic, but really it all begins here. We know how we like to be treated and this is where we start with others. We like people to speak directly to us, with kindness and respect. It begins with the vibe you give off, that non-verbal communications piece. So, enter into the connection with an intention of openness, gentleness, being observant of their cues to connect or give space and flow with what you see is needed to make them feel considered and comfortable. This may be different for everyone you meet. If you’re connecting with a person sitting, get low and look into their eyes. If you’re connecting with a person with hearing issues, gently tap their shoulder before speaking. If you’re watching and using compassion as your guide, you’ll learn quickly.

2. Keep It Simple and Considerate

Just as if you were visiting a foreign country for the first time, you would appreciate those who knew a little English to slow down and use simple terms and language, without making you feel small. This is how best to connect with those of different intellectual and physical abilities. Keep your language concise, avoid jargon and speak slowly at a normal volume and check in to see if they’re comprehending. If yes, you’re on the right track. If not, you’ll need to compassionately try other tactics.

3. Listen, Be Patient and Adapt

Taking the time to slow down, hone in on what they’re expressing and listening not only with your ears but observing all the signs of comprehension, will truly help you learn how best to connect with that person. Then, when you patiently recognize that one strategy isn’t working, you’ll be quick to switch techniques, maybe speaking more slowly, demonstrating, writing down your thought, or waiting until they’re ready to be present. And although you may want to help someone immediately, should the need arise, remember to err on the side of respect and ask before assisting. We all appreciate being considered and asked, first.

4. Remove Distractions and Engage in One-on-One

When anyone is working hard to communicate, noise levels, busy places and energetic spaces can detract from one’s ability to concentrate and thus understand. Work to make this easier for all, by inviting them into a quieter space, turning down or off, or shutting out, noise. Try to see and hear the scenario from their perspective and imagine how you would feel trying to communicate in that space were you working within their situation or condition.

5. Relax and Remember the Privilege It Is

When people give us their time and attention, it is a gift offered. We need to remember this and the fact that they are just people like us and, no matter what their differing ability, they may be just as nervous and worried about the connection (maybe more). As a DSW, you can take pride in the fact that you’ve chosen a professional that helps people connect and grow in their life experiences. The more respect and kindness you offer, the more at ease they will feel and the better the bond you’ll develop.

6. Treat Adults as the Valuable Adults They Are

When someone ‘seems’ to know less than we do, because they see or communicate in a way we aren’t familiar with, people can sometimes treat others as though they know, even are, less. This just isn’t true or acceptable. We all have things to learn from one another and just because a person our age or older experiences and moves through the world differently than we do, does not make them child-like. We need to keenly keep this in mind. Respectful consideration and action include seeing adults and treating them as adults, no matter their abilities.

7. Be Honest and Ask for Insight

If you don’t know what is being said, be honest and ask for them to repeat or get some help from another. If they’re able to communicate and you don’t understand something, tell them you need their help or guidance to learn or connect better. People with the verbal and intellectual ability to understand and explain their condition and needs, are often honoured that you would care enough to ask, and feel good about being able to educate on their behalf.

8. Let Them Speak or Share

Be sure that when you’re asking for information that you listen to the complete answer and give time for full explanations. Don’t be quick to jump in and interrupt, even for clarification. Allow them to speak and share their full thought and then, when it’s your turn, speak.

9. Keep It Short and Develop a Plan

Most people with varying, differing, abilities find it much easier to understand, follow and connect when information, questions, and thoughts are kept short and to the point. And as you come to know that person, and you’ve established what works best, put it to paper and a plan so you remember the strategies you learned and can apply them in future connections.

10. Recognize the Role You Play

As a DSW you have the distinct privilege of developing relationships with those in need of support. You have the chance to make a powerful difference in the life of another with the respect you show them, and perhaps remind them that that kind of respect is what they deserve. Offering your services, care and support to ensure people feel a sense of dignity and honouring is the privilege you are given and, in this, you can embrace a truly thriving and rewarding career.

If you are currently enrolled in a development service worker course/service worker course, you will undoubtedly be learning the various ways in which you will communicate – from writing, sign language and gestures to using images and pictures. But no matter the form this communication takes, applying the tips above will help you in developing real and precious bonds with those you serve.

Do you want to work with those who display a wide and beautiful array of abilities and find ways to encourage and empower them? If you’re determining if your interests match this career, you can take the “Anderson College Developmental Support Worker Discovery Quiz”. Or if you’re ready to start your Developmental Service Worker career, book a virtual appointment with our Admissions team. We can even get you connected to join the next class!

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