By Emma Beckett Communication Development Worker & Speech & Language Therapy Student

Total Communication Services CIC work closely with Bury People First. Bury People First is run for adults with learning disabilities, run by adults with learning disabilities and social workers.

Bury People First usually work in their office, but over lockdown, have been meeting several times a week from their homes using Zoom. Total Communication Services are involved on Tuesday mornings for communication and Signalong sessions, although other topics have arisen over our time in lockdown.

This is very much an advocacy group, and there are consistent themes of wanting to have their voices heard by everyone, and more often than not, high-profile figures such as Boris Johnson. Topics for campaign which have come up are: access to communication aids, the right to communicate, the right to accessible information, support for those with communication needs when transitioning (from child to adult services, moving home), the public’s tend to focus on disabilities over abilities regarding people with additional needs, and the need for staff training to enable efficient work with people with additional needs.

Having said this, Signalong is still a focus point in the sessions. The group have learnt hand shapes and letter shapes to help develop their signing system. We have practiced our twenty core signs (please see our Signalong blog for more information), created name signs for everyone in the group, and taught the group signs that they wanted to know. Also, we have a couple of songs which we have been practicing and supporting with the use of Signalong, these are Yellow Submarine by The Beatles, and an animal-themed song to the tune of Can-Can by Jacques Offenbach. We have talked about using the Signalong that we have learned together in training. The group are involved in developing some training for staff as part of the Oliver McGowan campaign.

Students have had the opportunity to be involved in the process, taking part in meetings, helping to create/find resources and are currently planning a session to run on Zoom with the group. This has been a learning curve for everyone involved though, as working online introduces a new set of challenges to adapt to and work around. The group has now expanded to include other self- advocacy groups and we are continuing as the Communication Advocates.

This month’s blog is about the need for sensory assessments and the need for understanding and support with sensory issues. There are many people far more qualified than me to explain the importance of understanding sensory processing and sensory needs for the people we support. For people with an interest in finding out more, the work of Olga Bogdashina is well worth a read and looking at training from the Sensory Integration Network. Amy Stevens’ website ‘A Chatter of Magpies’ is a useful resource too.

I have been interested in the perceptions of the people I work with and found that for some people self-report can be more accurate with visual support than just spoken accounts; whether that’s accessible information, communication aids or a talking mat. Starting with the person’s own view is a vital aspect of gathering information about sensory experiences.

All of us understand the idea of strong preferences or strong dislikes, in my case I can find the smell of some perfumes and scented candles enjoyable whereas the texture of yoghurt or fatty meat is utterly repulsive to me.

Many of us can articulate these preferences and reactions and, if we are lucky, the issues we have end there just by us expressing it or avoiding unpleasant experiences. For some people perhaps with Autism or dementia for example, sensory processing differences have a huge impact on their daily life and for this reason we need to understand and adapt to these needs.

I have worked with an Occupational Therapist in mental health and a number of other professionals to develop a starting point for discussion about the person’s feelings about differing sensory stimuli. We have two new vocabulary sets - Touch and Pressure and Taste and Texture now available on our website, in the online shop. Using the sets prior to introducing strategies or a sensory diet could provide baseline information in an accessible format which can then be compared at future intervals to look at progress.

As ever we would very much appreciate your feedback and suggestions on the resources and any comments about how you have used them.

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