The art of communicating and why it should be valued

Emily McConnell talks about how seeing her brother grow up with Down’s Syndrome, has made her realise the importance of communication

Lockdown means different things for different people. While most of us are able to say how we’re feeling, others, who have communication support needs, rely on a range of adapted techniques to express their feelings and let you know their point of view.

And this is how it is with my younger brother Finlay, who has Down’s Syndrome.

For as long as I can remember, Finlay has relied on Makaton signs and symbols to support his communication. He is seventeen now and has a fantastic vocabulary of signs which all of us have learned as a family. When someone in your family relies on communication support techniques, it makes you think, much more deeply, about “the art of communication”, an art that most of us take for granted.

So what have I learned from Finlay?

I’ve learned that communication is indeed an art form, if done properly. It takes time and requires patience and persistence, all in a good way. You get to value every aspect of the conversation – it feels much more authentic for both parties.

Emily with her younger brother Finlay

The single most important skill is to listen. It’s so important not to rush in and finish Finlay’s sentences for him. By listening with your eyes and not your ears, you pick up on every aspect of the communication and appreciate every word. It’s a real privilege to have a conversation with someone who values every word in their communication. 

So, I would say to you all, give it a go. Don’t ever be afraid to talk with someone who needs support with their communication. If you actively listen and honestly participate, with patience, you will receive the gift of a deeper and meaningful conversation.

Learning Makaton signs and symbols is also quite good fun!

By Emily McConnell

Footnote: Makaton is an adapted sign language used increasingly by Speech and Language Therapists to support people with learning disabilities whose communication can sometimes take longer to develop. The woman who founded a Makaton as a language, Margaret Walker, recently received a Pride of Britain Special Recognition Award for her work in this field.

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