And sometimes, as far as you're concerned, it's all worked fine - but then the blank/confused look in the other person's eye tells you something got lost in translation. I was once part of a hilarious online conversation where we were all recounting funny stories of ridiculous things we've said or done because of ME cognitive problems. One person's story went something along the lines of,
"My daughter picked up a hot cup of tea and it was hurting her hand. I yelled, 'Put it down on the table, put it down on the table!" but couldn't understand why she was just staring oddly at me and still holding the hot cup. It turned out that, although I was convinced I'd said, "Put it down on the table", what I'd actually been shouting was, "Pick up the phone! Pick up the phone!"(Apologies to whoever it was who told that story; I had no idea how to re-find that conversation to find out who you are, and I hope you don't mind me mentioning it - but know that it has tickled me ever since :-) )
So yes, communication issues with ME can result in ridiculous and hilarious conversations. I regularly have to mime at my carers when I just can't find the words I need; they've become quite good at interpreting me and we often end up in fits of laughter because of my brain's ludicrousness!
However, it's not always so easy to laugh at yourself or the situations you find yourself in. Days when you're in excruciating pain, your muscles are very weak and sometimes paralysed, and your brain is refusing to tell you your own name let alone what that thing is called that you're desperate for (water? food? blanket? painkillers? toilet?) - those times aren't so funny.
I now have written instructions for my carers that, in the event that I cannot speak, they should ask me yes/no questions and tell me to give one grunt for 'no' and two grunts for 'yes'. But that requires me to endure multiple questions until they can work out where my pain is or whether I'm hot/cold/hungry/thirsty/uncomfortable etc - and when every tiny noise feels like a battering ram causing pain and shock to my entire body, more questions is not what I need. Plus it's humiliating to be like that, and it makes you feel very vulnerable and powerless. And how many yes/no questions would it take for them to work out that what I'm trying to say is that my left ear is bent back where I'm lying on the pillow and it's unbearable agony but I can't lift my head to sort it out?!
So, I decided to try to find ways to help myself communicate on bad days. And I found a few really helpful tools. They all have limitations and there are days when I would not be able to use any of them; most of them require me to be able to see, so would be no good on days when I cannot open my eyes, or when I have to wear an eye mask because any light causes searing eye pain. And they all require at least a bit of cognitive ability, so are unusable on days when the only thing between my ears is porridge. On other days, however, one or other of them may be helpful, and may be the difference between me being trapped mute inside a body racked with pain, or being able to communicate my basic needs. So I thought I'd share in case they help others.
I started by doing a Google search. (Other search engines are available! And using this one: http://investinme.easysearch.org.uk will raise a bit of money for Invest in ME at no cost to you.) I found that there are quite a few different communication tools out there, many of which were developed for people with autism or who have had a stroke. Both types can be helpful, although many of the ones developed for people with autism are for children, so have a lot in them that isn't relevant to me, and don't include stuff that would be relevant.
I found some speech apps for smartphones, many of which are free, where you can type in what you want to say and it'll read it out for you (or you can just show the other person what you've typed). I have an android phone so only know about apps for android, but I'd be highly surprised if there weren't ones for other platforms.
This is the app that I use: Speech Assistant AAC although there are plenty of others that I haven't tested, which may or may not be better/more suitable to you. I've found this one really helpful (in fact I cried with relief when I found it!) and easy to use. It has lots of different words and phrases pre-set in different categories; you can edit and add to these, and you can also free type. (Using the app to swear out loud is strangely cathartic and very, very funny! I don't normally swear but on bad days it seems the only logical response!)
There are similar apps which use pictures instead of words, and with some of them you can take photos of people and objects that you want to be able to refer to using the app. I did download one of these apps in case there are days when pictures are easier for my addled brain to process than words, but I haven't worked out how to use it yet! (That is a reflection on me, not on how easy to use the app may or may not be!)
A communication board is a printed sheet with various words and/or pictures that you can point to. A brilliant site I found is this: Amy Speech & Language Therapy, Inc, where you can download various free communication boards. Here is one example: Bedside Messages (pdf file). I haven't yet used a communication board, but I plan to, I just haven't got my act together and worked out what I want on it yet. I'm excited about it, though, if for no other reason than that I will laminate it, and I do love a bit of lamination...!
I also found this site which has a free trial of software you can download to make your own communication boards: www.mayer-johnson.com - but I haven't tried it so don't know what it's like.
Again, something that I've planned to do but haven't got round to yet, is to create a flowchart of yes/no questions, ie, 'Are you ok?' If no, 'Are you in pain?' If yes, 'Do you want pain meds?' - and so on. This allows me to choose in advance what I want people to ask me if I can't speak, so that what they ask is based on my priorities and preferences, not on what happens to occur to them at the time. It will be more exhausting for me, having to listen and respond to so many questions, but would be very useful on days when I can't open my eyes or can't move my hand to use my phone or point to boxes on a communication board. I guess I've sort of started this because, in my list of instructions to my carers, I have a list of common issues that I want them to ask me about, eg pain, hunger, thirst, hot/cold, uncomfortable, etc.
Google have a talk/type thing which was pre-installed on my phone as 'Voice Search'. Basically, you can talk into your phone and it will type out what you're saying (in theory). So on days when I can talk but can't use my hands, if I want to send a message to someone or write myself a reminder or something, I could talk into the phone and it would type out what I'm saying. In theory. Or maybe, as my memory is appalling but I struggle with writing for very long, I could use it to take notes if someone visits me. In theory.
No doubt the technology will improve over time, but it's not quite there yet! For example, I spoke this:
"OK bear with me, I'm trying an experiment. Google have an app which allows you to talk into your phone and it will type out what you said"And the app typed out this:
"ok with me driving experience google app allows you to talk into your phone and it will type out what you said"Hmmm. Not *exactly* what I said...!
Once, when I'd only recently discovered that my phone could do this, I decided to test it out. I was on my landline but stuck on hold to some organisation or other, waiting for someone to answer the phone. So I opened the 'Voice Search' thing on my phone, and held it up to the phone to see what it would make of the recorded message. The result?
"Your call will Beyonce as soon as possible."Seriously.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just things I have happened to come across up to now; please comment and share any communications aids that you've found helpful :-)
I'd love to hear what you think! Do leave a comment if you have anything you'd like to say about this topic. If you have any difficulty with this process, please see the Site Help page. Please bear with me if it takes a while for me to respond; I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my blog, but I'm not always well enough to reply. Thank you :-)