There’s a lot that can be said about non-verbal communication.
Tears, for instance. Tears can say a whole lot. Recently, our daughter reminded me of this. I’m so grateful that I remain open to learning from her. She’s an amazing teacher.
You see, our daughter is committed to living ever more fully into her fantastic life. (You might want to check out her Facebook Group, How to Live a Fantastic Life with Laura.) And she knows she needs support to do this. In fact, she’ll tell you, “I can do anything—as long as I have support.” I, on the other hand, am committed to making sure she has support that meets her ever-changing wants and needs.
But supporters move on. Even Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), for whom this work is their career, move on. And this is where the non-verbal communication comes in.
For over 30 years, I’ve been responsible for using Government funding to purchase the services of support people. Likely close to 100 support people have come and gone from our daughter’s life. In the beginning, back in the late 80’s, all I wanted was a warm body—someone who would spend an hour or so with our daughter, and keep her safely occupied, so I could run for groceries, go for a wee walk, or take a shower uninterrupted. I was grateful for secondary school students who would come and go as their schedules, interests and attention allowed. This was purely respite—and I had not yet learned how this revolving door of unskilled, but very willing supporters affected our daughter. And, she had not yet learned how to communicate.
Over time, I learned to expect more from the supporters whose services we hired. We eventually expected respite with a purpose, where I got a rest and our daughter worked on goals. Then came a focus purely on achieving goals and developmental programming, with me receiving respite as a by-product. Then, community connecting and relationship building. All the while, our daughter was learning—what worked best for her, and how to communicate this to us.
For many, many years, our daughter has been part of the hiring process. She had her specific questions she needed to ask—and she knew the answers she was looking for.
But it was only recently when her non-verbal communication—her tears—communicated to me the depth of importance she attributes to the answer to this one. particular. question: “How long can you commit to doing this work; where do you see yourself in five years?”
During the screening process, we ask applicants this same question. We know the answer will be important to our daughter. We know that students, who are just passing through on their way to different priorities, will not be our ideal DSP candidates. We know that candidates who intend to do this work over the long term are far more worth our consideration.
But, I had not fully understood the real importance of the answer to this question.
I was made aware of this, most recently, when I told our daughter, “We have a very good candidate. She wants to do this work over the long term.” And after she was sure she knew what that meant … when she understood that this person might not come for just a while, only to leave again … when she felt this person could really commmit …. she immediately burst into tears. Popping-right-out-of-the-eyes-and-onto-the-table tears. Then, when she interviewed the candidate herself, and asked that same question, and got that same answer, the tears in her eyes spoke volumes.
She might well have said, “I’m willing to invest in her, if she’s really, truly willing to invest in me.”
She didn’t have to find the words—her tears were enough.
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It was hearing this over and over again that made me want to commit to Laura almost 20 years ago. Keep telling the stories Linda, I think they really matter.