Sometimes when our houses get filled with family and visitors or when we are running from one gathering to the next, it can feel like there is no time to slow down and create accessible moments for nonspeakers in our lives. I know this is true for me. Spelling to Communicate teaches purposeful motor** to increase access. It is easy to forget that purposeful motor doesn’t only take place when someone is spelling on a letterboard*.
Opportunities for purposeful motor are all around us all the time! We know that initiation is one of the hardest parts of a motor action. That means that nonspeakers likely want to be involved even though they may not look like they want to be involved. By supporting purposeful motor off the letterboard, we can provide access to many holiday activities. We can also start to share with those around us, family and friends, how to create accessible moments for nonspeakers, unreliable speakers, and minimal speakers.
Not sure where to start? Below are some ideas and prompts to help get you started. Words in green and red can be used as verbal prompts.
1. Access to Christmas Stockings
I don’t know about you, but I want to be the one to pull all of the goodies out of my Christmas stocking. This is part of the fun!
“Hold the stocking with one hand
“Reach in – reach, reach, reach!”
“Grab (close your fingers)”
“Pull! (pull your arm back, towards your body)”
– Since holding the stocking and pulling items out might be difficult, you can hold the stocking while your nonspeaker does the rest.
– Have a box or a bin where stocking stuffers can be placed/dropped once they come out of the stocking
– Take breaks as needed
2. Access to Unwrapping Gifts
I might like unwrapping gifts even more than pulling out stocking stuffers! Unwrapping presents can involve more fine motor skills than you might expect. Here’s some suggestions to coach those skills.
Poke a hole (stick your index finger up, poke)
Find a paper edge (look with your eyes first)
Pinch with index and thumb
– Hold gifts at arm level so that it is easier for eye-tracking muscles
– Take breaks
3. Access to Gifts in Bags
Bags might be easier than wrapped gifts and could help make gifts a bit more accessible. The motor is very similar to stockings
Reach in (reach, reach, reach)
Pinch index and thumb
Drop (open your hand)
Look with your eyes
– Hold gift bag at arms’ length and eye level so that it is easier for eye muscles
– Take breaks
4. Access to New Toys, Games, and Activities
Just like learning to use a new body engager, new toys, games, and activities take practice too. Remember that it can be dysregulating to try something new but that doesn’t mean that your nonspeaker doesn’t want to try something new or is not enjoying their gift! Spend time breaking down a new activity into coachable motor steps. Spend a little time working on these steps each day. Think about whether there is a way to make smaller steps into fun games too. Don’t let siblings master the skill and become bored by the new game or toy before your nonspeaker has a chance to develop their skills and fully learn and master it.
5. Access to Eating with Family
It can be difficult for people with sensory motor challenges to keep their bodies at a table. This is even more challenging when there is a lot of conversation, lights, music, and more distractors that come with the holidays! Nonspeakers want to be part of their family’s activities just like anyone else. Think about making your holiday gathering more sensory-friendly by asking your nonspeaker what might help beforehand. Consider the use of regulating objects such as a weighted blanket or other object to put on their lap to make it easier to sit for meals. Contemplate who might be a regulating person to sit beside. Remember that it’s okay to take breaks and get up and move. Remember, that just because someone gets up, it does not mean they do not want to come back! Be sure to invite your nonspeaker to rejoin you at the table. . If your nonspeaker has access to a CRP (Communication Regulation Partner), use the letterboard or your AAC of choice to find out what your nonspeaker would like to eat and what might make the meal more pleasant. This might be easiest before all of the guests arrive. You might be surprised by their answer.
*A nonspeaker is anyone who cannot use speech as their primary means of effective communication which includes people who are minimally speaking or unreliably speaking
** Purposeful motor is the use of motor on demand to accomplish a novel task. This is a tough skill for nonspeakers with sensory-motor differences who experience a breakdown between planning and execution. Purposeful motor skills can be developed by breaking down the motor steps in an action and coaching the motor for each of those steps.
Written by: Monica van Schaik (Spelling to Communication Practitioner and I-ASC Leadership Cadre Member)