February has long been associated with the celebration of love and relationships. The people we value and care about most is what life is all about! And the beauty behind such partnerships is that they come in many different forms. Life is complex and highly supportive relationships are vital to mental health and well-being. The benefits of partnering with significant others are numerous, but most importantly when we are completely understood, we feel safe and secure in the knowledge that our needs will be met. We all have a right to experience this kind of certainty in our relationships, including those who communicate and experience the world in unique ways.
Too often though, the focus of this relationship swings back and forth between what the speller is doing or what the CRP is doing. Rarely is the unspoken interchange, where both the CRP and speller tune in towards each other, examined or discussed. This tuning or attunement is a genuine effort to understand one’s partner and their emotions. And in any relationship there are both literal as well as more nuanced benefits of attunement. For example, in the communication partnership the speller relies on their CRP to understand the mind-body disconnect and attune to their body which may be signaling the need for sensory or motor feedback. An attuned CRP can then provide the appropriate support, a literal benefit for the speller. A literal benefit for the CRP occurs when they recognize the speller’s shifting sensory-motor needs; they can adjust their support accordingly to achieve a more successful outcome. As important as it is to have strategies in place and to achieve spelling goals, beneath all of that is the relationship doing far more than its fair share of the work!
When examining any relationship, the interpersonal process of attunement quickly comes into focus with nuanced benefits occurring for both involved, including the speller and CRP. This makes sense because we all know that relationships are a two-way street! As an S2C practitioner and CRP, I can speak firsthand about the nuanced benefits I receive from these relationships. First, I place a high value on the communication partnership and have hopes and aspirations too. I hope to be understood and aspire to meet the other person’s needs. Through my partnerships I gain personal and professional fulfillment as I learn alongside the speller, problem solve, laugh, and have fun! And along these lines of thought comes worry. I worry about misunderstandings and that I’ll make mistakes. I care about the speller and their family and worry about letting them down. Perhaps some of these thoughts sound familiar? In any highly valued relationship, thoughts like these are normal. And chances are the worry goes both ways because who would want to upset or disappoint someone they care about and are truly invested in? Misunderstandings are difficult for both sides in a relationship and so most people try to avoid them, naturally.
BUT LIFE IS MESSY. HUMAN INTERACTIONS ARE COMPLEX AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS INEVITABLE.
This is true for everyone, but even more so for those who are neurodivergent and have a sensory-movement difference. The dominant disability paradigm that currently exists dictates to the world what neurodiverse people understand and what they need from others. It perpetuates misunderstanding and misattunement, especially for nonspeakers and in their relationships. Think about how many times a day misunderstandings naturally occur during social-communication interactions. For those with more complex neurology and sensory-movement differences how often are misunderstandings even recognized and acknowledged by others?
When the speller and CRP enter into a partnership, both carry their own expectations, hopes, and fears. And we know that mistakes and misunderstandings are inevitable, but therein lies the crux of the matter: once a mistake is recognized, opportunity arises! When you’ve been misunderstood or are struggling, nothing feels better that when the other person recognizes it and tries to resolve it. Reparation or making amends can transform anxiety or upset into relief and belief. Relief that the other person recognized and understood the situation and belief that they care and will continue to remain attuned. This transformative process cultivates trust and is the key behind successful relationships and partnerships!
The same process of trust building in relationships occurs within the communication partnership. Like dancing partners, each person must be attuned to the other and adjust accordingly. Looking more closely at attunement in action, both the CRP and speller keep their attention on each other’s process, recognizing the other’s efforts and needs throughout the exchange. For example, the CRP attunes to the speller’s efforts, recognizing when their body reacts in ways they don’t want by responding without judgment or without losing faith in the speller’s desire and ability. The CRP adjusts their support which may be subtle like varying their tone of voice or pace or more obvious by providing a body engager. But even the smallest adjustment in support can be thought of as a repair or amends to a misattunement that has occurred.
Likewise, in the communication partnership, the speller attunes to the CRP’s efforts as well. Even when I don’t get my support exactly right, the speller sees my effort and understands my intentions. Their ability to tolerate my mistakes and remain regulated demonstrates that. Additionally their repeated efforts during our sessions communicates their trust in me which fuels my confidence and desire to keep at it! I feel more competent and secure because the speller shows they believe in my ability and understand when I make a mistake. They don’t give up on me either and thank goodness for that! And like any relationship that is based on trust the nuanced benefits goes both ways! In the communication partnership, there is no judgment. I don’t judge my speller and they don’t judge me! This is obvious, especially after I’ve made a mistake and a speller continues to stay right with me giving all their effort to keep on spelling! There is zero judgment, which for both sides translates even further into trusting each other, ourselves, and our abilities that much more. And when both the CRP and speller believe in each other, motivation soars as each try even harder to do their part. When you know someone believes in you and is genuinely interested in not only helping you achieve your goals, but in getting to know you too, genuine regard and care is felt; and these feelings are naturally reciprocated!
In short, a communication regulation partner and speller embody a unique and nuanced relationship and in those partnerships where attunement is high, trust grows naturally. When mistakes happen, both partners benefit from repeated and mutual understanding. The more repairs or adjustments that occur within a relationship the greater the level of trust. And besides, who wouldn’t want a trusted person at their side when they are working hard to achieve something?
In the spirit of the month that celebrates relationships, here’s another acrostic poem to remind us what’s at the heart of all truly successful relationships, including the communication regulation partnership!
Debbie Spengler, MS, S2C Practitioner and I-ASC Leadership Cadre from Southern California. She is attempting to transverse the wide landscape of relationships in her life one day at a time